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NASA’s Opportunity Rover is Battling a Massive Dust Storm on Mars

NASA's Opportunity rover halted over Martian dust storm

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InSight catching rays on Mars: NASA. Pixabay
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NASA’s Opportunity rover’s science operations have been temporarily suspended as it waits out a growing dust storm on Mars, the US space agency said in a statement.

First detected by NASA on June 1, the storm ballooned to more than 18 million square.km and included the Opportunity’s current location at Perseverance Valley in the Red Planet by June 8.

The swirling dust has raised the atmospheric opacity, or “tau”, — the veil of dust blowing around, which can blot out sunlight — in the valley in the past few days.

As the rover uses solar panels to provide power and to recharge its batteries, the rover was required to shift to minimal operations.

The storm’s atmospheric opacity is now much worse than a 2007 storm that Opportunity weathered. The previous storm had an opacity level, or tau, somewhere above 5.5; this new storm had an estimated tau of 10.8 as of morning on June 10.

Despite the worsening dust storm, Opportunity also sent a transmission to NASA engineers on the same day, the report said.

Data from the transmission let engineers know the rover still has enough battery charge to communicate with ground controllers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

However, still science operations remain suspended, the report said.

Mars
Mars. Pixabay

Opportunity’s team has also requested additional communications coverage from NASA’s Deep Space Network — a global system of antennas that talks to all the agency’s deep space probes.

The latest data transmission showed the rover’s temperature to be about minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 29 degrees Celsius).

Engineers will monitor the rover’s power levels closely in the week to come. The rover needs to balance low levels of charge in its battery with sub-freezing temperatures.

Its heaters are vitally important to keeping it alive, but also draw more power from the battery. Likewise, performing certain actions draws on battery power, but can actually expel energy and raise the rover’s temperature.

Also Read: NASA to Hold Announcement About New Discovery on Mars

The rover has proved hardier than expected by lasting nearly 15 years, despite being designed for a 90-day mission.

Full dust storms though one are not surprising, but are infrequent. They can crop up suddenly but last weeks, even months.

During southern summer, sunlight warms dust particles, lifting them higher into the atmosphere and creating more wind.

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and two other NASA spacecraft orbiting the Red Planet –Odyssey and MAVEN — routinely support rovers on the ground. (IANS)

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NASA’s Probe Discovers Signs Of Water on Asteroid Bennu

OSIRIS-REx will pass later this month just 1.2 miles (1.9 km) from Bennu, entering the asteroid's gravitational pull and analyzing its terrain.

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This Nov. 16, 2018, image provide by NASA shows the asteroid Bennu. NASA

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft has discovered ingredients for water on a relatively nearby skyscraper-sized asteroid, a rocky acorn-shaped object that may hold clues to the origins of life on Earth, scientists said on Monday.

OSIRIS-REx, which flew last week within a scant 12 miles (19 km) of the asteroid Bennu some 1.4 million miles (2.25 million km) from Earth, found traces of hydrogen and oxygen molecules — part of the recipe for water and thus the potential for life — embedded in the asteroid’s rocky surface.

The probe, on a mission to return samples from the asteroid to Earth for study, was launched in 2016. Bennu, roughly a third of a mile wide (500 meters), orbits the sun at roughly the same distance as Earth. There is concern among scientists about the possibility of Bennu impacting Earth late in the 22nd century.

 

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NASA’s OSIRIS-REx. Flickr

 

“We have found the water-rich minerals from the early solar system, which is exactly the kind of sample we were going out there to find and ultimately bring back to Earth,” University of Arizona planetary scientist Dante Lauretta, the OSIRIS-REx mission’s principal investigator, said in a telephone interview.

Asteroids are among the leftover debris from the solar system’s formation some 4.5 billion years ago. Scientists believe asteroids and comets crashing into early Earth may have delivered organic compounds and water that seeded the planet for life, and atomic-level analysis of samples from Bennu could provide key evidence to support that hypothesis.

“When samples of this material are returned by the mission to Earth in 2023, scientists will receive a treasure trove of new information about the history and evolution of our solar system,” Amy Simon, a scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, said in a statement.

OSIRIS-REx, NASA, Asteroid
This illustration provided by NASA depicts the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft at the asteroid Bennu. The rocky remnant from the dawn of the solar system may hold clues to the origins of life. VOA

“We’re really trying to understand the role that these carbon-rich asteroids played in delivering water to the early Earth and making it habitable,” Lauretta added.

OSIRIS-REx will pass later this month just 1.2 miles (1.9 km) from Bennu, entering the asteroid’s gravitational pull and analyzing its terrain. From there, the spacecraft will begin to gradually tighten its orbit around the asteroid, spiraling to within just 6 feet (2 meters) of its surface so its robot arm can snatch a sample of Bennu by July 2020.

Also Read: Wintertime Ice Growth in Arctic Sea Slows Long-Term Decline: NASA

The spacecraft will later fly back to Earth, jettisoning a capsule bearing the asteroid specimen for a parachute descent in the Utah desert in September 2023. (VOA)