NASA Orbiter Spots a Speck of a Silent Mars Opportunity Rover
From 166 miles (or 267 kilometers, if that’s more your speed) away, NASA’s Mars Opportunity rover is a bit hard to see. But after losing contact with the rover on June 10, 2018, the public has finally caught sight of the infamous 15-year-old rover again. (If you’re having trouble seeing it in this game of eye-spy, NASA’s got your back with the white box.)
HiRISE, a high-resolution camera manned by the the University of Arizona aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, nabbed a photo of the Mars Opportunity Rover on September 20. The photo was taken from above the Meridiani Planum, the plains near the red planet’s meridian, where scientists suspect water may once have existed.
If anything, Opportunity chose a fitting, potentially final resting place. After heading into Perseverance Valley, a dust storm overtook the solar-powered rover and blocked its visibility significantly, causing it to enter hibernation mode. At worst, the dust storm completely blocked out Opportunity’s view. The amount of sunlight that reaches the surface of Mars is measured in tau, measured a little over 10 at peak storm. When HiRISE’s picture was recently taken, tau was recorded at approximately 1.3, or about 25 percent of sunlight reaching the surface.
The storm, which at one point completely enveloped Mars, peaked in mid-July. But even after the storm dissipated in August, Opportunity stayed silent. Since then, the loyal team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory formulated a new outreach plan like Opportunity’s most persistent ex, listening for the rover multiple times a day with a system of “sweeps and beeps” that will continue. The team plans to continue this strategy until January 2019.
Whether Opportunity is simply taking a nap or resting for good remains uncertain. Exactly how much dust has fallen off the the rover’s solar arrays versus how much is coating the arrays is also not clear. Comparing the newest image to those taken a year ago, scientists do hope that Opportunity’s source of energy isn’t completely blocked, according to the University of Arizona. But it’s hard to tell whether Opportunity is experiencing other faults as well. Only time will tell.
Storms have gone global before. In its third summer on Mars, Opportunity faced another storm that blocked out all but 1 percent of the sun for the solar-powered rover.
Opportunity’s companion rover, Spirit, was launched along with it to the red planet, but a faulty wheel eventually caused it to get stuck in late 2009 and its last communication with Earth was in March 2010.
Opportunity, don’t ghost us. We see you. Nearly 14 years past original expiration date, we haven’t given up.
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