Dust knocks out Mars rover ‘Op­por­tu­nity’

Otago Daily Times - - WORLD -

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

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand

© PressReader. All rights reserved.