Published: Tue, October 30, 2018
Research | By Raquel Erickson

Oppy still silent as dust storm begins to settle

Good news, everyone! The planet-encircling dust storm on Mars is beginning to wane, which means NASA's solar-powered Opportunity rover, now in hibernation mode, will soon be able to wake up - assuming the storm hasn't irreparably damaged it. At the end of that 45-day window while tau has still remained low, if we have not heard from the vehicle, we will stop our active listening (commanding) mode for Opportunity.

Dr Zurek said: "The dust haze produced by the Martian global dust storm of 2018 is one of the most extensive on record, but all indications are it is finally coming to a close".

John Callas, Opportunity project manager at JPL, said: "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". Opportunity last communicated with Earth on June 10. The rover, which has been sitting silently ever since the planet-swallowing dust storm blocked out its only source of power, still has a opportunity to wake back up. On the other hand, there is a possibility that a large amount of dust could have been deposited on our solar arrays severely reducing our solar power, so we will continue our passive listening efforts for several more months until early next year.

Mission controllers are already trying to hail Opportunity three times a week, beaming beep-eliciting commands via the big radio dishes of NASA's Deep Space Network (DSN) during times when the rover might be awake. Here's one Opportunity photographed back in February 2017. Zurek said in the statement that there had been no signs of dust storms within 3,000 kilometers of Opportunity "for some time".

Opportunity and her sister rover, Spirit, have been on the surface of the Red Planet since January of 2004.

In an August 30 statement, NASA said it would begin a 45-day campaign of active efforts to restore communications with Opportunity once skies above the rover cleared to a sufficient level. His career includes working for NASA, Astrogeology Headquarters of the United States Geological Survey, the Mars Spaceflight Facility located at Arizona State University and the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory located at the University of Arizona. It's possible the dust storm caused damage. Assuming that is the case, the batteries may not be able to hold enough charge for the rover to complete its missions - or they may be inadequate for keeping the rover adequately warm during Mars' coldest months. The team also knows that everything about the rover is well beyond its warranty period - both Opportunity and its twin rover, Spirit, were constructed for 90-day missions (Spirit lasted 20 times longer and Opportunity is going on 60 times). The probe was created to travel just 1km, but in its many years of service it has managed to log more than 45km.

"In a situation like this you hope for the best but plan for all eventualities", added Callas.

However, "there is reason to be optimistic, " says NASA, as the storm appears to be weakening, meaning that sunlight may have time to peak through the dust and give the rover a much-needed boost. "And if she does, we will be there to hear her".

Our collective fingers are crossed that some life still exists for this perky rover, but as we wait for the probe to come back online, it's important to take stock and acknowledge Opportunity's tremendous accomplishments to date.

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