Friday, July 20, 2007

Mars Rovers Face Destructive Dust Storm

For about a month now, the Martian Rovers Spirit and Opportunity have been facing a series of dangerous dust storms. Opportunity, the rover in greater danger, is only receiving 1 percent of incoming sunlight because of the storm. Communications, observations and driving have been suspended for Opportunity in order to conserve power.

The storm over Opportunity has blocked out 99 percent of the sunlight, leaving the rover to draw on its battery for energy. NASA is hoping for the best outcome, but admit that the rovers were not designed to survive this kind of harsh environment. The two rovers were only supposed to last 90 days, but have been active for three and a half years; so NASA remains optimistic about its fighting rovers.

The above image shows images taken over a 30-sol day period by Opportunity. Visibility is currently very poor, and the heavy accumulation of dust is evident on the surface in the image. Image Credit: NASA

Before the dust storms, Opportunity's solar panels produced 700 watt hours of electricity a day, but after passing 148 watt hours (the lowest for either rover during their stay on Mars), Opportunity is down to 128 watt hours. Although Opportunity is facing the brute of the storm, NASA has reduced activity on Spirit which is also facing the storm in a less severe position.

NASA wants to conserve Opportunity's energy usage, so for the first time, it has cancelled communication session for two days (yesterday and today) in order to save whatever electricity it can.

This storm might last for days or even weeks, and one or both of the rovers might become damaged or unable to operate. And the settled dust on the rovers' solar panels might also prove to be a problem. NASA engineers will analyze the rovers when the storm settles to determine the condition of each rover.

Times are harsh for the two rovers, but the rovers have proved they can accomplish much more than expected of them, and NASA hopes the two rovers will do the same though this storm.

Original Article: JPL News Release

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