Published: Wed, October 31, 2018
Sci-tech | By Patricia Wade

Mars dust storm clears, raising hope for stalled NASA rover

Good news, everyone! The planet-encircling dust storm on Mars is beginning to wane, which means NASA's solar-powered Opportunity rover, now in hibernation mode, will soon be able to wake up - assuming the storm hasn't irreparably damaged it.

The robot is battling a killer weather combination with the extreme dust storm, which is blocking light to its solar panels and coating it in a fine dust, while also fighting -100 degree Fahrenheit temperatures.

Mission controllers are already looking out to hail Different thrice per week, beaming beep-eliciting commands via the broad radio dishes of NASA's Deep Recount Network (DSN) at some stage in times when the rover would possibly also be conscious. "Assuming that we hear back from Opportunity, we will begin the process of discerning its status and bringing it back online". That effort addresses "the unlikely chance that there is a large amount of dust sitting on the solar arrays that is blocking the sun's energy", Callas said. At the time contact was lost with Opportunity in early June, tau has risen to 10.8, a record high value that indicated that the sun was nearly completely obscured by the dust storm.

"The Sun is breaking through the haze over Perseverance Valley (the rover's resting spot), and soon there will be enough sunlight present that Opportunity should be able to recharge its batteries", said John Callas, Opportunity project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California, US.

Dr Zurek said: "The dust haze produced by the Martian global dust storm of 2018 is one of the most extensive on record, but all indications are it is finally coming to a close".

Opportunity's tracks on Mars in 2017. At the end of that 45-day window while tau has still remained low, if we have not heard from the vehicle, we will stop our active listening (commanding) mode for Opportunity.

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Should all go well, Opportunity will say hello and slowly be brought back online. The latest MARCI data shows no active dust storms to within 3000km of Opportunity's location. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/Arizona State Univ. Opportunity has shrugged off a lot of obstacles in its decade-plus visit to the red planet. Such "cleaning events" were first discovered by Mars rover teams in 2004 when, on several occasions, battery power levels aboard both Spirit and Opportunity increased by several percent during a single Martian night, when the logical expectation was that they would continue to decrease. However, even though skies above Mars have cleared up a bit, Opportunity may still have to wait a while for the chance to recharge and communicate again with its handlers.

For now, the scientists will continue attempting to contact the rover. The probe was created to travel just 1km, but in its many years of service it has managed to log more than 45km.

"In a scenario admire this, you hope for the completely but conception for all eventualities", Callas stated.

"We are pulling for our tenacious rover to pull her feet from the fire one more time", Callas said. After that, they'll run a full diagnostic check to see how the rover is doing. "And if she does, we are going to have the flexibility to be there to listen to her".

In its statement, NASA did not publish an updated value of tau.

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