There May Still Be Hope for NASAs Sleeping Opportunity Rover


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There May Still Be Hope for NASAs Sleeping Opportunity Rover

An artists concept of Opportunity on MarsIts been months since NASA engineers have heard from the sleeping Opportunity rover, which powered down after getting caught in a massive dust storm on Mars that obscured its surface from the Sun. But all hope isnt yet lost, as the space agency said in an update Thursday that a coming windy season on the Red Planet could help clear dust believed to be obstructing Opportunitys solar panels.

“A windy period on Mars—known to Opportunitys team as “dust-clearing season”—occurs in the November-to-January time frame and has helped clean the rovers panels in the past,” NASA said.

In the meantime, engineers with NASAs Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)—which oversees the 14-year-old rovers operations—are increasing the number of commands to Opportunity and listening for any calls home in the event that it is still operational.

Engineers last heard from the rover on June 10 while it was working in Mars Perseverance Valley. NASA said it believes the global dust storm that peaked in June may have resulted in a layer of dust on the rovers solar panels, blocking the necessarily sunlight it needs to recharge. NASA said it assumes Opportunity went into hibernation mode, which its designed to do, in order to preserve any remaining power until after the storm dissipated.

“No one can tell just how much dust has been deposited on its panels,” the space agency said in its update this week, but it added that its team remains hopeful.

Last month, the HiRISE camera aboard NASAs Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) spotted the sleeping rover on the Red Planets surface, indicating that it hadnt been completely buried by dust and offering a glimmer of hope that sunlight would be able to reach its solar panels once the storm cleared.

“The Sun is breaking through the haze over Perseverance Valley, and soon there will be enough sunlight present that Opportunity should be able to recharge its batteries,” John Callas, Opportunity project manager at JPL, said in a statement last month. “When the tau level [a measure of the amount of particulate matter in the Martian sky] dips below 1.5, we will begin a period of actively attempting to communicate with the rover by sending it commands via the antennas of NASAs Deep Space Network. Assuming that we hear back from Opportunity, we will begin the process of discerning its status and bringing it back online.”

The Opportunity rover has far, far outlived its expected lifetime of 90 Martian days. Launched in 2003 with its twin Spirit as part of NASAs Mars Exploration Rover (MER) mission, the golf-cart-sized robot is nearing 15 years on the Red Planet.

Heres to hoping this remarkably resilient little rover will phone home soon.

Correction 4:30 pm ET, 10/14/18: A previous version of this article based on a previous report said NASA put the rover into hibernation mode. This article was updated to reflect clarification by NASA on Sunday that it assumes Opportunity went into hibernation mode on its own, which it is designed to do. We regret the error.

[NASA]

By: Gizmodo

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