Sunday, 23 September, 2018

NASA's Opportunity rover is braving an extreme dust storm on Mars

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Theresa Hayes | 13 June, 2018, 21:00

On Sunday, the rover sent a transmission back to Earth, letting NASA engineers know the rover still has enough battery life for basic communication. Originally, its mission was only supposed to last 90 days.

Since the storm began bearing down on Opportunity, the rover has started conserving energy by ending science operations and only using minimal power to keep it warm during the tempest.

As per a statement by NASA officials, they said that when they have spotted the storm, they notified the rover's team to get prepared for the contingency plans and in some days the storm has ballooned.

As has been seen throughout Opportunity's lifetime, dust routinely collects on the surface of its solar panels and is, somewhat surprisingly, routinely cleaned by Mars' wind and dust devil events, thus allowing greater power generation on the rover than would otherwise be possible if total accumulation built up over time without these cleaning events. It now covers an area greater than North America, more than 7 million square miles (18 million square kilometers). NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter first identified this dust storm, stated NASA official's. It increased the atmospheric opacity in the region, creating a smog-like situation where most of the sunlight gets blocked out.

This global map of Mars shows a growing dust storm as of June 6, 2018. It's not unlike running a auto in the winter so that the cold doesn't sap its battery charge. Conducting research is pretty tough with dust and debris flying around, but being caught in the storm isn't just a bummer from a scientific standpoint; Opportunity's power comes from batteries linked to solar panels, and those solar panels don't work well when the skies aren't clear. "They can appear unexpectedly but last for weeks or even months".

The current dust storm seems to be worse than the one in 2007 in terms of dimming. Despite this, both rovers have vastly exceeded expectations: they were only created to last 90 days each. Working on Mars since the year 2004, the NASA Opportunity rover has faced a similar condition in the year 2007 when a dust storm even bigger than the present one had covered the planet and forced the Opportunity to cease its activities for around 2 weeks. Recently, the turbulence reached NASA's Opportunity Rover's position and the mission was halted until the dust storm passes.

Top speed of the vehicle is 50 mm/second (0.18 km/h), and in the time it spent on Mars in managed to travel only 45 kilometers (28 miles), unofficially becoming the single slowest, most expensive self-propelled vehicle. The courageous little rover is continuing to weather the storm; it sent a transmission back to Earth Sunday morning, which is a good sign.