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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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Kepler, NASA, tissue
NASA to use Blockchain technology for air traffic management. Pixabay

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)

Next Story

Student Project into Space, NASA Comes Up With Chicago Planetarium

As the NASA-owned, Northrop Grumann-developed Antares rocket successfully blasted off from the coast of Virginia on April 17, it wasn’t just making a resupply mission to the International Space Station.

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“Our main goal was to see if the ozone layer is getting thinner and by how much, and if there is different parts of the Earth’s atmosphere getting thinner because of the pollution and greenhouse gases, Pixabay

 

College student Fatima Guerra, 19, will be the first to admit, she’s into some really nerdy stuff.

“Like, up there nerdy.”

“Way up there nerdy,” she says. “All the way up into space.”

Guerra is an astronomer in training, involved since a high school internship with a small project at the Adler Planetarium, with big goals.

“Our main goal was to see if the ozone layer is getting thinner and by how much, and if there is different parts of the Earth’s atmosphere getting thinner because of the pollution and greenhouse gases,” she told VOA from the laboratory at the Adler where she often works.

FILE - Apollo 13 crew members Commander Captain James A. Lovell, Jr., right, and Lunar Module Pilot Fred W. Haise pose for a photo during a 40th Anniversary reunion of the moon mission at the Adler Planetarium, April 12, 2010, in Chicago.
Apollo 13 crew members Commander Captain James A. Lovell, Jr., right, and Lunar Module Pilot Fred W. Haise pose for a photo during a 40th Anniversary reunion of the moon mission at the Adler Planetarium, April 12, 2010, in Chicago. VOA

Coding ThinSat

Data that sheds light on those circumstances is gathered by a small electronic device called “ThinSat” designed to orbit the Earth. It is developed not by high-paid engineers and software programmers, but by Chicago-area students like Guerra.

“We focused on coding the different parts of the sensors that the ThinSat is composed of. So, we coded so that it can measure light intensity, pressure.”

“This stuff is very nerdy,” Jesus Garcia admits with a chuckle.

“What we hope to accomplish is look at Earth from space as if it was the very first exoplanet that we have. So, imagine that we are looking at the very first images from a very distant planet.”

As a systems engineer, Garcia oversees the work of the students developing ThinSat for the Adler’s Far Horizon’s Project, which he outlines “bring all types of students, volunteers and our staff to develop projects, engineering projects, that allow us to answer scientific questions.”

Garcia says the students he works with on the project cross national, racial and cultural divides to work toward a common goal.

“Here at the Adler, we have students who are minorities who have been faced with challenges of not having opportunities presented to them,” he said. “And here we are presenting a mission where they are collaborating with us scientists and engineers on our first mission that is going into space.”

Rocket carries project into space

As the NASA-owned, Northrop Grumann-developed Antares rocket successfully blasted off from the coast of Virginia on April 17, it wasn’t just making a resupply mission to the International Space Station.

On board was ThinSat, the culmination of work by many at the Adler, including Guerra, who joined the Far Horizons team as a high school requirement that ended up becoming much more.

“A requirement can become a life-changing opportunity, and you don’t even know it,” she told VOA. “It’s really exciting to see, or to know, especially, that my work is going to go up into space and help in the scientific world.”

Daughter of immigrants

It is also exciting for her parents, immigrants from Guatemala, who can boast that their daughter is one of the few who can claim to have built a satellite orbiting the Earth.

“I told them it might become a worldwide type of news, and I’m going to be a part of it. And they were really proud. And they were calling my family over there and saying, ‘She might be on TV.’ And it’s something they really feel a part of me about,” Guerra said.

Also Read: ‘Big Steps To Reduce Carbon Emission’ Apple Expects Cooperation With China on Clean Energy

Long after the data compiled by ThinSat is complete, Guerro will still have a place in history as a member of a team that put the first satellite developed by a private planetarium into space.

She says her friends don’t think that’s nerdy at all.

“It’s cool, because it’s interesting to see that something so nerdy is actually going to work, and is going to go up into something so important,” she said. (VOA)