Mars Opportunity rover is in danger of dying from a dust storm

12 Juin, 2018, 01:52 | Auteur: Therese Cote

"Data from the transmission let engineers know the rover still has enough battery charge to communicate with ground controllers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California", NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory explained.

NASA says it has received transmission from its Mars Opportunity Rover, which is now caught in a "worsening" dust storm that has rattled the machine and its systems.

"The storm's atmospheric opacity - the veil of dust blowing around, which can blot out sunlight - is now much worse than a 2007 storm that Opportunity weathered".

"There is a risk to the rover if the storm persists for too long and Opportunity gets too cold while waiting for the skies to clear", says NASA.

It was during that 2007 storm that Opportunity's handlers anxious about the rover's ability to power its vital survival heaters with the low power levels caused by that dust storm.

The storm itself is said to cover more than 7 million square miles, and that the swirling dust has created an environment "comparable to extremely smoggy day that blots out sunlight".

NASA released a global map of Mars captured by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter on June 6.

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The storm that is now blanketing Opportunity is absolutely massive in size, with NASA estimating that it covers a whopping 7 million square miles.

"We expect that even if the storm dissipates before becoming a global dust storm, that the amount of dust in Gale will increase over the next several days", Curiosity team member Scott Guzewich wrote in an update last week. "That wind kicks up yet more dust, creating a feedback loop that NASA scientists still seek to understand".

The area blanketed by the dust storm includes Perseverance Valley, Opportunity's current home on the vast Martian plains of Meridiani Planum. And it's seen dust storms bigger than the one it's experiencing now.

In fact, Opportunity has been surviving for 15 years. It ceased contact with Earth back in 2010. If the situation continues to worsen, the next step would be to suspend Opportunity's communications with Earth to save additional power.

As with the 2007 dust storm event, there is a very real possibility that should a low-power fault program trip and Opportunity goes to sleep that the rover will not wake up again. "The rover needs to balance low levels of charge in its battery with sub-freezing temperatures". Likewise, performing certain actions draws on battery power, but can actually expel energy and raise the rover's temperature.

That's because Opportunity - like NASA's other Martian robots - relies on sunlight for power.

NASA touts the rover's durability in lasting almost 15 years in action despite being designed for a 90-day mission.

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