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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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NASA is Confident Regarding Mars Opportunity Rover

However, even after the first time engineers hear from Opportunity, it would take time to fully recover, NASA said

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Optimistic about Mars Opportunity rover, says NASA. Pixabay

There’s reason to be optimistic about Mars Opportunity rover that has been silent since June 10, after getting caught in a massive dust storm on the Red Planet that cut off solar power for the nearly 15-year-old rover, NASA said in a statement.

According to the scientists, the global dust storm is “decaying” — meaning more dust is falling out of the atmosphere than is being raised back into it. As a result, skies might soon clear enough for the solar-powered rover to recharge and attempt to “phone home.”

Studies on the state of batteries and temperatures at the location showed that they were relatively in good health before the storm, and there is not likely to be too much degradation.

Moreover, because dust storms tend to warm the environment — and the storm happened in summer — the rover should have stayed warm enough to survive, the US space agency noted.

Engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California are now looking for signs for recovery efforts.

According to them, Opportunity will need a tau — the veil of dust blowing around — of less than 2.0 before the solar-powered rover will be able to recharge its batteries.

NASA
Engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California are now looking for signs for recovery efforts. Flickr

The higher the tau, the less sunlight is available; the last tau measured by Opportunity was 10.8 on June 10. To compare, an average tau for its location on Mars is usually 0.5.

Several times a week, the engineers are using NASA’s Deep Space Network, which communicates between planetary probes and Earth, to attempt to talk with Opportunity.

The massive DSN antennas ping the rover during scheduled “wake-up” times, and then search for signals sent from Opportunity in response.

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In addition, JPL’s radio science group uses special equipment on DSN antennas that can detect a wider range of frequencies. Each day, they record any radio signal from Mars over most of the rover’s daylight hours, then search the recordings for Opportunity’s “voice.”

However, even after the first time engineers hear from Opportunity, it would take time to fully recover, NASA said. (IANS)