The massive dust storms on Mars finally come to an end. NASA hopes the Opportunity rover will call back home for the first time in nearly three months.
NASA detected the storm for the first time on May 30. June 10 was the last time the US space agency heard from their rover. The solar-powered machine went into “sleep” mode because dust blocked out the sun and there was darkness everywhere.
However, NASA now believes the contact with the 15-year-old rover is possible.
“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,” said John Callas, Opportunity project manager at Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
But if NASA makes no successful contact, the space agency says it will give up active efforts in mid-October.
“If we do not hear back after 45 days, the team will be forced to conclude that the Sun-blocking dust, and the Martian cold, have conspired to cause some type of fault from which the rover will more than likely not recover,” said John Callas, Opportunity project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
“At that point, our active phase of reaching out to Opportunity will be at an end.”
However, “passive listening efforts will continue for several months,” Callas said, because of the “unlikely chance that there is a large amount of dust sitting on the solar arrays that is blocking the Sun’s energy.”
NASA will begin sending commands to the rover once dust levels in the Martian sky fall below a threshold level. So, if they hear back from Opportunity, they will begin assessing its status and attempting to bring it back online.
Currently, nobody knows the health of the robot. The dust could have caused a reduced energy production, diminished battery performance and a range of other technical difficulties.
Thumbnail image: Opportunity rover. Credit: NASA