NASA specialists working on the Mars research program are starting to get nervous: for the third month the famous Opportunity rover has not responded to the commands, which was covered by a dust storm.
Such storms on Mars happen quite often, they usually arise when the southern hemisphere of the planet comes to summer. Despite the fact that they occur unpredictably and sharply, most often the storms are local in nature and last for several weeks.
However, from time to time dust storms become a phenomenon of a planetary scale. Such storms were observed on Mars more than once, for example – by the American apparatuses Mariner 9 (1971), Viking I (1971) and Mars Global Surveyor (2001).
This was the last storm that originated in the highland region of Arabia Terra last May and over the next few weeks spilled over the entire planet. One of the unpleasant consequences of this phenomenon was the shutdown of the rover Opportunity, working in the Valley of Perseverance, which because of the dust plunged into total darkness.
Shadow Opportunity (NASA)
As specialists of the agency reported, due to the fact that the storm raised a huge amount of dust into the atmosphere, a “dark, endless night” came on the planet, because of which the rover lost its main source of electricity-electricity produced by its solar batteries.
Because of this, the rover automatically entered the energy-saving mode and will remain in it until the illumination is restored. “We are worried, but we hope that the storm will clear up and the rover will start to contact us,” said John Callas, the head of the mission in June.
The last time the rover came on June 10, the storm is now subsiding, the atmosphere clears up, but the rover is still silent. In addition to the lack of communication and a non-working condition, there is another problem, scientists say – the rover may not have enough energy to heat its batteries, which are threatened with freezing in a cold Martian atmosphere. However, scientists hope that the arrival of the Martian summer will not allow them to freeze.
In addition, observations show that the transparency of the atmosphere has increased, and a response from the device can be expected at any time. The storm had an impact on the work of another American rover – Curiosity – which works in the crater of Gale and also noticed a storm. However, it has little effect on its performance, since it uses not solar batteries but a radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG) as an energy source.
Scientists continue to listen to the response from the missing rover in the hope that his journey will not end there. “The scientific team sends teams three times a week to catch the signal in case the rover wakes up,” the mission said.
“We still do not hear it,” said mission spokesman Andrew Good. -. A number of scientists believe that in the early to mid-September the sky will become transparent enough to enable it to recharge.
By the time of the storm, the rover worked 14 years and 195 days, exceeding the planned time on Mars by 55 times. Opportunity touched the surface of Mars in the Eagle crater on January 24, 2004, three weeks after its twin Spirit, which sank to the opposite side of Mars. The warranty period of operation of both devices was three months – that’s the time for mission engineers to travel around the Red Planet.
As is often the case in such cases, and the example of Soviet lunar rovers is a confirmation, the vehicles lasted much longer, but ten years ago no one could have guessed that it was so.
Therefore, the first question asked by the New York Times journalist on the mission’s 10th anniversary was as follows: “What will happen before, will the rover break down, or will NASA simply run out of money to manage it?”
“No one at all expected that the Martian rover would act 10 years later and act productively,” said John Callas, the project manager. Counting on three months, NASA assumed that the Martian dust would simply bring in the solar batteries of the rovers and they would stop. However, it turned out that the incoming winds perfectly clean the panels. In 2009, Spirit got stuck in the sand and stopped contacting, and Opportunity continued its movement.