Opportunity Rover Is Stuck in a 'Dark, Perpetual Night'

It's awful hazy here right now.                  NASA

Luckily, NASA has since made contact with the rover, which is encouraging sign.

NASA's Curiosity rover is keeping tabs on the huge Martian dust storm that has sidelined its older cousin on the other side of the planet. 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. As the rover uses solar panels to provide power and to recharge its batteries, the rover was required to shift to minimal operations. Space.com explains the fine line: Opportunity's handlers need to keep its heaters running at a level that will prevent it from freezing without draining the batteries.

NASA launched the twin rovers Opportunity and Spirit in 2003 to study Martian rocks and soil. The rover has proved hardier than expected by lasting almost 15 years, despite being designed for a 90-day mission.

There is a chance that the extreme cold could put Opportunity out of action for good if the storm persists for too long. By now, two weeks later, the dust storm is nearly completely blotting out the Sun! For comparison, a major 2007 dust storm had an opacity level, or tau, above 5.5 while the current storm had an estimated tau of 10.8 as of 6 June.

'This latest data transmission showed the rover's temperature to be about minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 29 degrees Celsius).

NASA's solar-powered Opportunity Mars rover, seen here in an artist's concept, has powered down and suspended science operations because of a widespread dust storm that has sharply reduced the energy reaching its solar cells.

Full dust storms like this and the one that took place in 2007 are rare, but not surprising. During southern summer, sunlight warms dust particles, lifting them higher into the atmosphere and creating more wind. "That wind kicks up yet more dust, creating a feedback loop that NASA scientists still seek to understand". While they can begin suddenly, they tend to last on the order of weeks or even months. NASA has continued to track the storm from orbit and the surface. The team is now operating under the assumption that the charge in Opportunity's batteries has dipped below 24 volts and the rover has entered low power fault mode, a condition where all subsystems, except a mission clock, are turned off.

In the meantime, Opportunity's science operations remain suspended and the Opportunity team has requested additional communications coverage from NASA's Deep Space Network - the global system of antennas that communicates with all of the agency's deep space missions.



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