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One of the largest registered Martian dust storms begins to clear up after almost three months, and hopes that NASA's robotic vehicle, Opportunity, powered by solar energy, will soon come back to life.
The storm was first detected on May 30 and the rover of the American space agency was heard for the last time on June 10, when it went into "sleep" mode when the dust prevented the full passage of sunlight and enveloped the darkness the red planet.
A NASA statement mentioned the situation & critics & # 39 ;, but added that & # 39; the rover team is cautiously optimistic, knowing that Opportunity has overcome great challenges during its more than fourteen years on Mars & # 39; ;
If a successful contact can not be restored, NASA has announced that it will give up trying in mid-October.
"If we do not receive news in 45 days, the team will have to conclude that the dust that blocks Mars's sun and cold has accumulated to cause a malfunction that the robotic vehicle is unlikely to recover," said John Callas. , Opportunity project manager at NASA & # 39; s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).
"At that moment our active phase of reaching Opportunity will come to an end." "The passive listening efforts will continue for several months," said Callas, because of the "unlikely chance that there is a large amount of dust in the solar panels that blocks the energy of the sun."
Twin vehicles on Mars
Opportunity and its twin, Spirit, are a pair of unmanned robotic vehicles designed by NASA to collect information from the surface of Mars and send data to Earth about the conditions there.
They landed on Mars in 2003 on a mission that was expected to last 90 days and cover 1000 meters.
Spirit lasted 20 times longer than that, but was stuck on soft ground in 2009 and her mission was formally declared closed in 2011.
Opportunity, for its part, has been able to multiply the planned life of the mission by 60, has traveled 45 kilometers and has found evidence of water on Mars and conditions that may have been conducive to supporting microbial life.
And even though it's limited because it ran out of your front and without its 256 megabytes of flash memory, not everyone is ready to throw in the towel so quickly.
The hashtags #SaveOppy and #WakeUpOppy have become popular on Twitter, with requests to keep in touch with the rover powered by Mike Siebert, former flight director and rover driver on Earth for Opportunity.
For Siebert, 45 days is too little, as NASA struggled for 15 months to contact Spirit before she gave up.
"It is woefully inadequate," he wrote on Thursday. "The person who made this decision is a coward."
NASA is the only space agency that has successfully landed a robot vehicle on Mars. The largest and newest vehicle, Curiosity, landed in 2012 and does not suffer from dust due to the use of a core battery.
Mars dust storms are common and more than those on Earth because Mars has a finer atmosphere. Usually they last between a few weeks and a few months.
"The dust mist produced by the global martian dust storm of 2018 is one of the largest ever recorded, but everything indicates that it is finally coming to an end," said Rich Zurek, project scientist at Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. JPL from NASA.