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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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The nearly 15-year-old rover is not out of the woods yet as it could take weeks, or even months, for the dust to start settling., 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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Chandra Observatory By NASA Back in Action

Scientists are currently performing analyses and tests to determine what options were available to recover the gyro to operational performance

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NASA's Chandra Observatory back in action. Pixabay

NASA Chandra X-Ray Observatory, observing the universe in high-energy light since 1999, is back in action after suffering a glitch due to the failure of the gyroscope and going into safe mode last week.

The cause of Chandra’s safe mode on October 10 has now been understood and the Operations team has successfully returned the spacecraft to its normal pointing mode, according to the US space agency.

“The safe mode was caused by a glitch in one of Chandra’s gyroscopes resulting in a 3-second period of bad data that, in turn, led the on-board computer to calculate an incorrect value for the spacecraft momentum. The erroneous momentum indication then triggered the safe mode,” NASA said in a statement late on Monday.

The team has completed plans to switch gyroscopes and place the gyroscope that experienced the glitch in reserve.

Once configured with a series of pre-tested flight software patches, the team will return Chandra to science operations which are expected to commence by the end of this week, NASA said.

On October 10, Chandra X-ray Observatory entered safe mode, in which the observatory is put into a safe configuration, critical hardware is swapped to back-up units, the spacecraft points so that the solar panels get maximum sunlight, and the mirrors point away from the Sun.

Chandra is 19 years old, which is well beyond the original design lifetime of five years. In 2001, NASA extended its lifetime to 10 years.

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NASA’s Dawn spacecraft, which has been orbiting the dwarf planet Ceres since March 2015, is also nearly out of fuel and might run out as early as October. Flickr

The US space agency said that it was also continuing to work towards resuming science operations of the Hubble Space Telescope that on October 5, entered safe mode after one of the three gyroscopes (gyros) being used to point and steady the telescope failed.

Gyroscopes help spacecraft maintain proper orientation.

Scientists are currently performing analyses and tests to determine what options were available to recover the gyro to operational performance.

Till that time, science operations with Hubble have been suspended.

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Besides Chandra and Hubble, NASA’s planet-hunting Kepler space telescope is also almost out of fuel. Kepler has found about 70 per cent of all known alien worlds to date.

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft, which has been orbiting the dwarf planet Ceres since March 2015, is also nearly out of fuel and might run out as early as October.

The space agency’s Mars rovers Opportunity and Curiosity too have faced issues of late. (IANS)