A massive Martian storm swallowed NASA’s Opportunity rover. NASA published some images revealing how stark the situation is.
Well, NASA’s Opportunity rover is having a rough time on Mars. A dust storm, large enough to cover North America and Russia is engulfing the red planet.
“The storm is one of the most intense ever observed on the Red Planet,” NASA said in a press release.
So, the Martian storm has forced NASA to suspend the Opportunity rover’s science work.
“The Martian dust storm that has blotted out the sun above Opportunity has continued to intensify,” NASA officials wrote in a mission update Tuesday. “The storm, which was first detected on May 30, now blankets 14 million square miles (35 million square kilometers) of Martian surface — a quarter of the planet.” That means Opportunity’s solar panels aren’t receiving enough sunlight to call home from its Perseverance Valley location on Mars.
Is the Rover Okay?
The last time NASA had contacts with Opportunity was when the rover radioed back to its handlers on Earth on Sunday morning. Therefore, letting them know that it still had enough power to communicate. But those transmissions have since ceased.
So, that is a sign the rover has entered a “low power fault mode” where it basically hibernates. This means all the rover’s systems shut down except for a mission clock. That clock is programmed to wake up the rover periodically and check its power levels to see if it can call home.
“If the rover’s computer determines that its batteries don’t have enough charge, it will again put itself back to sleep,” NASA officials said. “Due to an extreme amount of dust over Perseverance Valley, mission engineers believe it is unlikely the rover has enough sunlight to charge back up for at least the next several days.”
NASA expects the storm to wrap around the entire planet within two or three days.
The above image is a series of pictures that NASA simulated from the perspective of its Opportunity rover. It shows the effects of a huge dust storm blotting out the sun on the Red Planet.
“The left starts with a blindingly bright mid-afternoon sky, with the sun appearing bigger because of brightness,” NASA explains. “The right shows the Sun so obscured by dust it looks like a pinprick. Each frame corresponds to a tau value, or measure of opacity: 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11.”
Right now it’s unclear whether the rover will make it out unharmed.
Thumbnail image: Simulated images show what NASA’s Opportunity rover saw as a global dust storm on Mars blotted out the sun in June 2018. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/TAMU