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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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NASA, opportunity, Mars
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

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)

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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Earth
“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)