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Survival Of Mars Rover Is Under Threat Due To A sandstorm

The storm has already affected a quarter of the surface of Mars

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Mars Rover
Mars Rover, Pixabay
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An unprecedented sandstorm on Mars is threatening the survival of NASA’s solar-powered Opportunity rover, the US space agency has announced.

“We are concerned but we are hopeful that the storm will clear and the rover will be able to communicate with us,” Opportunity project manager, John Callas, said late Wednesday.

The rover has been running low in power since the storm – which started on May 30 at the same point where the rover is parked – has removed its main source of energy, sunlight.

Opportunity is currently enveloped in what NASA describes as “a dark, perpetual night”.

According to NASA, Opportunity appears to have automatically entered a power-saving mode in which most of its functions are suspended.

Even so, the rover has to maintain the temperature of its batteries to survive on the icy Mars.

“As long as the rover stays warm enough, and our predictions are that it will, we can go any number of days,” Callas said, adding that summer on Mars is approaching and hence the temperatures will rise.

planet Mars
planet Mars, Pixabay

The storm has already affected a quarter of the surface of Mars, equivalent to the size of the entire American continent, and could surround the planet in a few days, as happened in 2001 and 2007.

“It is unprecedented in the pace at which it has grown and spread across the globe,” Jim Watzin, the director of NASA’s Mars exploration program, said at the same conference.

Scientists do not know when the storm will end and the rover will be able to generate new solar power, if its systems are not affected.

Opportunity landed on Mars in 2004 and has made discoveries about the past of the red planet.

Also read: Curiosity Rover Finds Ancient ‘Building Blocks for Life’ on Mars

For example, it found that at least a part of Mars had the necessary humidity conditions for mesophilic bacteria to live four billion years ago, and it also discovered that the planet used to have an acidic environment some time later. (IANS)

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NASA’s Curiosity Rover Captures Images of Martian Dust Storm

The last storm of global magnitude that enveloped Mars was in 2007, five years before Curiosity landed there

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NASA image.
NASA's Curiosity Rover Captures Images of Martian Dust Storm. Pixabay

With NASA engineers yet to make contact with the Opportunity Mars rover due to a massive storm on the Red Planet, scientists are pinning their hopes on learning more about Martian dust storms from images captured by the Curiosity probe.

As of Tuesday morning, the Martian dust storm had grown in size and was officially a “planet-encircling” (or “global”) dust event, NASA said in a statement on Wednesday.

Though Curiosity is on the other side of Mars from Opportunity, dust has steadily increased over it, more than doubling over the weekend, NASA said.

The US space agency said the Curiosity Rover this month used its Mast Camera, or Mastcam, to snap photos of the intensifying haziness of the surface of Mars caused by the massive dust storm.

For NASA’s human scientists watching from the ground, Curiosity offers an unprecedented window to answer some questions. One of the biggest: Why do some Martian dust storms last for months and grow massive, while others stay small and last only a week?

“We don’t have any good idea,” said Scott Guzewich, an atmospheric scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

Mars Rover
Mars Rover, Pixabay

Curiosity, he pointed out, plus a fleet of spacecraft in the orbit of Mars, will allow scientists for the first time to collect a wealth of dust information both from the surface and from space.

The last storm of global magnitude that enveloped Mars was in 2007, five years before Curiosity landed there.

The current storm has starkly increased dust at Gale Crater, where the Curiosity rover is studying the storm’s effects from the surface.

But it poses little risk to the Curiosity rover, said Curiosity’s engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

Also Read: NASA Plans To Install An Instrument To Monitor Plant Water Use

However, there was still no signal from the Opportunity rover, although a recent analysis of the rover’s long-term survivability in Mars’ extreme cold suggests Opportunity’s electronics and batteries can stay warm enough to function.

Regardless, the project does not expect to hear from Opportunity until the skies begin to clear over the rover.

The dust storm is comparable in scale to a similar storm observed by Viking I in 1977, but not as big as the 2007 storm that Opportunity previously weathered. (IANS)

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