Mars rover hunkers down in midst of giant dust storm

Nasa's brave Mars Rover could be killed by massive Martian dust storm

If the computer finds that power levels are good, it will command the rover to get in touch with engineers back on Earth, but if not, it'll put the rover back to sleep again to wait out the storm.

UPDATE: June 13, 2018, 2:05 p.m. EDT This story was updated to include more details on the storm and Opportunity from NASA. It survived a less severe dust storm in 2007. Managers said the main concern is that dust could temporarily cover its optical instruments. "We are listening every day for possible signals from the rover", he said, likening the atmosphere among colleagues to having a loved one lying in a coma. "If it's you're 97-year-old grandmother you're going to be concerned". "By no means are we out of the wood here". "When the skies clear and the rover begins to power up, it should begin to communicate with us", Callas said, expressing confidence that Opportunity will not be buried in dust. That's about the size of North America and Russian Federation combined. Although the rover now steers with two wheels instead of four and one of its arm joints is a bit creaky, it's currently exploring Perseverance Valley, a feature carved into the rim of Endeavor Crater. Learning how it was formed could provide insight into the history of the Red Planet.

On Tuesday, NASA's attempt to make contact with the rover failed, suggesting the battery level had finally dipped below 24 volts. According to Bean, this is the highest "tau" value that has ever been recorded for a Mars dust storm!

"Keep in mind, we're talking about a rover that's been working at Mars, hanging in there, for 15 years and designed just for 90 days."

Scientists aren't almost as concerned about the newer, nuclear-powered Curiosity rover on the other side of Mars, which is already seeing darkening skies. Opportunity's team has also requested additional communications coverage from NASA's Deep Space Network - a global system of antennas that talks to all the agency's deep space probes. The final frame, on the right, is a simulation based on the rover's data. "Its heaters are vitally important to keeping it alive, but also draw more power from the battery".

"We think we can ride this out for a while".

Although the rover needs solar energy, it has about 8 watts of thermal energy available in its insulated box. NASA has continued to track the storm from orbit and the surface. "It just doesn't get any better than that", said Jim Watzin, director of NASA's Mars exploration program. At most, it could endure for a month or two. The storm has been growing since the end of May with unprecedented speed. This storm, Zurek said, should die out before that landing, although there is a chance a second storm could later form. Several days have passed and the storm still rages on.

The mission scientists are intrigued: Why do these massive widespread events happen in some years but not all? NASA ceased Opportunity's science operations on June 4 as engineers prepared to secure the craft against the storm, Callas said. "Knowing and understanding how these storms behave ahead of more ambitious missions, it is essential that we learn to monitor and predict storms". Its longevity has taught us much about operating on Mars.

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