Lost Opportunity?: NASA rover threatened by intense Martian dust storm

Lost Opportunity?: NASA rover threatened by intense Martian dust storm

Fears for NASA's Opportunity rover are growing after engineers lost contact with Mars' oldest mechanical explorer during a raging dust storm.

The officials, however, expressed optimism that the Opportunity rover, which was built to operate for three months but has thrived on Mars since January 2004, will be able to survive and continue its scientific mission.

Opportunity relies on energy from sunlight to operate, and with the light blocked, day has turned to night. "If the rover's computer determines that its batteries don't have enough charge, it will again put itself back to sleep".

Opportunity, along with its twin named Spirit, was launched in 2003 and landed on Mars a year later to hunt for signs of past life. "All vitals are good, so we're just waiting", said John Callas, project Manager for Opportunity at the jet propulsion Laboratory of NASA. In 2007, Opportunity weathered a large dust storm with a tau of 5.5.

One of the major concern is also that even if the storm abates later it will take several days for the rover to charge its batteries for it to come back online and make contact with its team on earth. "The doctors are telling you, 'You just gotta give it time and she'll wake up.' But if it's your 97-year-old grandmother, you're going to be very concerned, and by all means we are".

But the dust storm now enveloping a quarter of Mars has turned day to night at the rover's equatorial location.

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"It seems that you have a loved one in a coma in the hospital".

Another NASA rover called Curiosity, which arrived on Mars in 2012, does not face the same level of threat from the storm, which was detected on May 30. Opportunity has been examining whether the Perseverance Valley geological feature was carved out by flowing water, wind erosion or both.

Mission controllers at the United States space agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, lost contact with the rover on Tuesday evening, according to The Guardian. Though the mission was only supposed to last 90 days, Opportunity is approaching its 15th year there.

The Rover will need to know when the Sun will return. That would trigger a "clock fault", when the rover loses track of time entirely.

NASA said: "The left starts with a blindingly bright mid-afternoon sky, with the Sun appearing bigger because of brightness".

"We think we can ride this out for a while", Callas said. When we have people on Mars, being able to better predict dust storms at Mars will be important because dust coating everything could wear bearings down, break down seals, and probably isn't good for human consumption.

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