Op­por­tu­nity rover sends trans­mis­sion amid Mar­tian dust storm

Iran Daily - - Science & Technology -

NASA’S Op­por­tu­nity rover is cur­rently hun­kered down, wait­ing out a se­vere dust storm on Mars.

The rover sent a trans­mis­sion back to Earth, let­ting NASA en­gi­neers know the rover still has enough bat­tery life for ba­sic com­mu­ni­ca­tion, UPI re­ported.

Op­por­tu­nity is cur­rently in­side Mars’ Per­se­ver­ance Val­ley. The val­ley and sur­round­ing re­gion have been shrouded by an in­ten­si­fy­ing dust storm over the last sev­eral days.

Like all Mar­tian space­craft, Op­por­tu­nity uses so­lar pan­els to keep its bat­ter­ies charged. Dust storms can block out the Sun for days, mak­ing it near im­pos­si­ble for the rover to recharge.

The Mars rovers’ ac­count an­nounced, “Sci­ence oper­a­tions for Op­por­tu­nity are tem­po­rar­ily sus­pended while it waits out a Mar­tian dust storm.

“The dust in the at­mos­phere is im­pact­ing the amount of power gen­er­ated by the rover’s so­lar pan­els.”

Sci­en­tists gauge the strength of a dust storm us­ing the unit tau — a mea­sure­ment of the at­mos­phere’s opac­ity.

In 2007, Op­por­tu­nity weath­ered a large dust storm with a tau of 5.5. As of Sun­day morn­ing, the cur­rent dust storm boasted a tau of 10.8.

Op­por­tu­nity’s orig­i­nal mis­sion was ex­pected to last just 90 days, but the rover is still op­er­a­tional nearly 15 years later. It’s a hardy ma­chine, but the lat­est con­di­tions are chal­leng­ing its grit.

En­gi­neers are closely mon­i­tor­ing its bat­tery lev­els and tem­per­a­ture. Night­time on Mars is ex­tremely cold, but us­ing Op­por­tu­nity’s heaters can drain the bat­ter­ies. It’s a bal­anc­ing act.

NASA said, “Its heaters are vi­tally im­por­tant to keep­ing it alive, but also draw more power from the bat­tery.

“Like­wise, per­form­ing cer­tain ac­tions draws on bat­tery power, but can ac­tu­ally ex­pel en­ergy and raise the rover’s tem­per­a­ture.”

Dust storms on Mars are a well-known phe­nom­e­non but are in­fre­quent.

How­ever, they can de­velop seem­ingly overnight and last weeks, even months. Dur­ing the south­ern hemi­sphere’s sum­mer, Mar­tian dust rises higher into the at­mos­phere as it is heated.

The up­drafts of dust can trig­ger more winds, trig­ger­ing a feed­back loop that fu­els the birth of a dust storm.

The cur­rent dust storm, which first emerged on June 1, now spans seven mil­lion square miles — big­ger than North Amer­ica. NASA sci­en­tists will con­tinue to mon­i­tor Op­por­tu­nity’s sta­tus us­ing the agency’s Mar­tian or­biters, MRO, Odyssey and MAVEN, as well as NASA’S Deep Space Net­work.

UPI A global map of Mars, com­piled us­ing the Mars Color Imager cam­era on NASA’S Mars Re­con­nais­sance Or­biter, shows the grow­ing dust storm. The blue dot marks Op­por­tu­nity’s po­si­tion in­side Per­se­ver­ance Val­ley.

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