Opportunity, the Mars rover had been out of contact since June 10. It has finally been located after aerial shots of the Mars explorer that appeared online. A massive dust storm had engulfed Opportunity and had cut out its power source; the sun.
The storm has finally died down, which is why we got to see the tiny adventurer. It remains unclear, however, whether it is still operational or not. The images were captured by The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
The Orbiter regularly captures breathtaking shots of the red planet. The spacecraft was on a routine assignment when it flew over Perseverance Valley last week. At Perseverance Valley it found Opportunity in a stationary state.
This wasn’t any ordinary storm but a full-blown force of fury. It affected many regions of the planet, not just Perseverance Valley. The natural disaster had sent Mars into frenzy turning its red hue into charcoal.
Weathering the storm (perfect analogy of the situation if I say so myself) is part of the job description for Opportunity, but this wasn’t any ordinary run-of-the-mill storm. It lasted for months and might be the worst storm Opportunity has faced to date.
June 10th was the last time Opportunity contacted Earth. At that time, the storm was getting so extreme that the rover had to go deep into a state of hibernation. It kept itself warm via its plutonium-powered heaters. But NASA is unsure if they are functional or not.
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Opportunity runs a daily routine system check to see if there’s any battery left in the reserves or if it is receiving any via solar rays. This check is done by the rover’s deeply embedded safety circuit.
Since the storm was so severe, Opportunity couldn’t recharge its batteries via the sun and it was forced to go into hibernation, just so it could survive.
Director of the Mars Exploration Program at NASA, Jim Watzin commented on the situation, “Now that the sun is shining through the dust, it will start to charge its batteries. And so sometime in the coming weeks, it will have sufficient power to wake up and place a call back to Earth. But we don’t know when that call will come.”
There are a lot of things that could have gone wrong during this catastrophe. The dust could have covered the solar panels in thick soot, the dust could have penetrated the motor and jammed it, and the storm could have caused an electric sparking in the internal system.
But the team at NASA is adamant about not giving up hope. They will do all in their power to get the rover working again.
The team has been pinging signals to the little explorer and will continue this practice for the next few weeks at least. But NASA assures that this won’t be the last time they will hear from Opportunity. NASA plans to continue trying to communicate till January of next year.
Even in the worst case scenario, NASA should feel proud of what they have accomplished. Opportunity was meant for a 90-day run, and it survived the brutal planet for 14 years. This is one heck of an achievement.
Until we hear about Opportunity again!