Nasa to reveal fate of Mars Opportunity Rover facing dust storm death

13 Juin, 2018, 15:36 | Auteur: Therese Cote
  • NASA's Opportunity Rover'Falls Asleep After Martian Dust Storm Will'Wait It Out

The storm was first detected on Saturday, June 1 and promptly grew to span more than seven million square miles - an area greater than North America. Luckily, NASA has since made contact with the rover, which is encouraging sign.

A growing dust storm on Mars is seen blurring the planet's features in this photo taken on June 6, 2018 by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

The swirling dust has raised the atmospheric opacity, or "tau", - the veil of dust blowing around, which can blot out sunlight - in the valley in the past few days. This is bad news for the rover since it relies on solar panels for power and to recharge its batteries.

Artist's conception of a Mars Exploration Rover, which included Opportunity and Spirit. But beyond merely limiting the rover's operations, a prolonged dust storm also means that the rover might not be able to keep its energy-intensive survival heaters running - which protect its batteries from the extreme cold of Mars' atmosphere.

Like the human body, the exploration rover can not function well under excessively hot or cold temperatures.

Opportunity is a plucky little robot that was only created to survive for 90 days on the surface of Mars but has kept on trundling for 15 years. It's also important to note that Opportunity has dealt with long-term storms before and emerged unscathed. In 2007 a much larger dust storm covered the entire Martian surface, forcing the rover to switch to minimal operations for a whole two weeks.

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While the rover sent a transmission down to Earth on Sunday, the storm has intensified in recent days bringing "a dark, perpetual night over the rover's location", NASA said in a statement.

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

The latest data transmission showed the rover's temperature to be about minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 29 degrees Celsius).

On Wednesday, NASA said it would hold a press conference later in the day to update the world on both the progress of the dust storm and the status of the rover.

"Full dust storms like this one are not surprising, but are infrequent", according to a NASA statement. While they can begin suddenly, they tend to last on the order of weeks or even months.

A saving grace about these storms is that they limit the extreme temperature swings, and the dust they kick up can also absorb solar radiation, thus raising ambient temperatures around Opportunity.

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