These side-by-side images, captured for several months in succession by Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter from NASA, show the dramatic effects of the dust storm that currently Red Planet covered
Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / MSSS
It is now more than two months since NASA's long-lived Opportunity Mars rover last called home.
The probability is not yet known since June 10, when dust in the sky of the Red Planet became so thick that the solar-powered rover could not recharge its batteries. The Opportunity handlers think that the six-wheeled robot has put itself into a kind of hibernation and they still hope to get a ping once the dust storm has eroded.
And there are good reasons for this optimism, NASA officials said. [Mars Dust Storm 2018: How It Grew & What It Means for the Opportunity Rover]
"Because the batteries before the storm were relatively healthy, there is probably not too much deterioration," NASA officials wrote in an Opportunity update Thursday (August 16). "And because dust storms usually warm the area – and the storm of 2018 happened when the Opportunity on Mars location went into the summer – the rover should have stayed warm enough to survive."
The dust storm started at the regional level at the end of May and by 20 June had grown into a planet-surrounding sample. The storm began to die late last month, but there is still a lot of dust in the air – probably too much for Opportunity to start charging its batteries.
Scientists track the amount of dust in the Martian atmosphere using a measurement of opacity called "tau." The lower the tau, the clearer the sky. The air in Opportunity's neck of the forest – the edge of the 14-mile-wide (22 kilometers) Endeavor Crater – typically has a tau of around 0.5, according to NASA officials. The last recorded measurement of the rover, on June 10, tagged it at a whopping 10.8.
The tau should probably be less than 2.0 for enough sunlight to get through and charge the rover's batteries, according to members of the mission team. In the past week or so, the estimated tau in the Endeavor Crater region ranged from about 2.1 to 2.5, she added.
Engineers are trying to communicate with Opportunity several times a week using NASA's Deep Space Network, a system of large radio dishes around the world. They greet the robot during planned "wake-up times" and then listen to an answer. And team members also cast a broader network: every day they search through all the radio signals they have received from Mars and listened to Opportunity chats, NASA officials said.
Even if Opportunity eventually wakes up and makes contact again, its long trial can eventually take the toll of the rover.
"The rover's batteries could have relieved so much power – and have remained inactive for so long – that their capacity has been reduced," NASA officials wrote in the update. "If these batteries can not hold that much charge, this can affect the continuous operation of the rover.It can also mean that the power consumption of the rover, such as the use of its heating appliances in winter, the battery & # 39; s brown. "
golf-cart-size Opportunity landed on Mars in January 2004, three weeks after his twin, Spirit. Both robots embarked on missions of three months to look for signs of water activity in the past on the Red Planet. The duo found a lot of such evidence and then spent years exploring Mars after their guarantees had expired.
The ghost eventually ended up in March 2010 in a Mars trap. The robber could not orient himself again to catch the sun, and he froze in the following winter. NASA stated that Spirit was dead in 2011.
NASA & # 39; s other active Mars rover, the carousel Curiosity, is on nuclear power and is therefore much less affected by the dust storm.
If you want to send your source Wishes to Opportunity and the mission team, you can do this with the help of the "postcards" on this mission site.