Dust knocks out Mars rover ‘Opportunity’
CAPE CANAVERAL: Nasa’s remarkably resilient Mars rover Opportunity has been knocked out by a gigantic dust storm that is enveloping the red planet and blotting out sunlight.
Officials hope the rover will survive the storm, which already covers onequarter of Mars and is expected to encircle the planet in another few days.
It could be weeks or even months, though, until the sky clears enough for sunlight to recharge Opportunity’s batteries through its solar panels. For now, Mars’ oldest working rover is stuck in the middle of the raging storm, in roundtheclock darkness.
The twin rovers Opportunity and Spirit landed in 2004. Spirit has not worked for several years but Opportunity has kept exploring well past its expected lifetime.
‘‘The project team is very concerned,’’ said John Callas, the mission’s project manager at Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.
‘‘This team has a very strong bond with the rover. The doctors are telling you that, ‘OK, you’ve just got to give it time and she’ll wake up, all the vital signs are good . . . But if it’s your 97yearold grandmother, you’re going to be very concerned.’’
Scientists are not nearly as worried about the newer, nuclearpowered Curiosity rover on the other side of Mars, which is already seeing darkening skies.
Opportunity’s batteries are probably so low that only a clock is still working, to wake it for periodic powerlevel checks, officials say.
If the clock also goes offline, then the rover will not know what time it is when it comes back on and could send back signals at any time.
In 2007, a massive dust storm kept Opportunity silent for a few days but it jumped back into action after awakening. This time, however, its energy level is believed to be much lower.
On the plus side, the Martian summer is approaching and that should prevent the batteries and other parts from freezing at night. Besides electrical heaters, Opportunity is equipped with eight tiny plutoniumpowered heaters. — AP/Reuters