Published: Thu, June 14, 2018
Research | By Jody Lindsey

NASA rover on Mars knocked out by gigantic dust storm

NASA rover on Mars knocked out by gigantic dust storm

The extreme cold of Mars is thought to be what killed Opportunity's twin, the Spirit rover, after it got stuck in Martian sand in 2010.

A NASA rover on Mars has fallen silent as a big dust storm envelops the planet and blots out the sun. Here, NASA is helped out by how Opportunity is in an area that's moving into Martian summer, as well as the fact that dust storms tend to bring warmer surface temperatures with them.

And while there's a chance the hardest-working rover on Mars won't make it through the storm, scientists are still hopeful.

But data from the transmission on Sunday told engineers that the rover still has enough battery charge to communication with ground controllers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "We think we can ride this out for a while". "The current dust storm is providing us with an unprecedented opportunity to learn more about Mars and the many challenges it presents for exploration", said Jim Watzin, director of the Mars Exploration Program at NASA Headquarters.

But Opportunity has survived adverse weather events in the past.

The opacity of the storm, an indication of how effectively it is blocking out sunlight, is at record levels for Opportunity, making it hard for the rover's solar arrays to fully charge its batteries. Each rover was created to only last 90 days, yet Opportunity has exceeded its operating plan by 14 years and 48 days.

NASA engineers attempted to contact the Opportunity rover today but did not hear back from the almost 15-year old rover.

By Wednesday, June 6th, Opportunity's power levels had dropped significantly and the rover was required to shift to minimal operations.

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The mission clock will trigger the computer to turn back on to check power levels sporadically, NASA said.

If the rover's computer determines that its batteries don't have enough charge, it will again put itself back to sleep.

The Opportunity Rover has fallen silent and controllers have been unable to reach it, according to reports from the news wires. "It just doesn't get any better than that". Engineers will monitor the rover's power levels closely in the week to come.

A senior official there said: "It's like having a loved one in coma in the hospital. You have the doctors telling you that, 'Okay, you just have to give it time and she'll wake up.' All the vital signs are good, so it's just waiting it out", Callas said. "If it's you're 97-year-old grandmother you're going to be concerned". "By no means are we out of the wood here".

The nuclear-powered Curiosity Mars rover, operating in Gale Crater well away from Opportunity, is not expected to be impacted by the current storm.

Opportunity has lived an unbelievable life on Mars.

It's had its share of problems over the years - its flash memory no longer works, two instruments have failed and problems with its two front wheels have forced it to drive backwards most of the time - but the hardy robot has continued to collect valuable science, setting new records with every sol. Opportunity has traveled a total of 45.09 kilometres. The rovers found evidence of past volcanic activity, water flows, and meteor impacts. The almost 15-year-old rover launched in 2003 and has been exploring Mars since it landed in January 2004.

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