Inside Opportunity: & # 39; Oppy & # 39; fight for his life in a massive storm of Martian dust



James Rice

July 1, 2018

  View of Opportunity solar panels in 2014. Image credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Cornell Univ./Arizona State Univ.

View of Opportunity's solar panels in 2014 Image Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Cornell Univ./Arizona State Univ.

Our intrepid Opportunity rover is currently in the midst of a mbadive global dust storm that started on May 30. The storm moved southward along the well-known Acidalia storm track towards Xanthe Terra. A few days later, the storm had spread from the east of Valles Marineris to the north of Arabia Terra. Then it moved across the equator and southward towards Meridiani Planum, where it is located Opportunity .

This storm is unusual since it started so early in the spring season of the southern hemisphere. Dust storms usually begin in the Martian summer. The only other dust event that took place during this season was one that took place in 2001. In fact, this dust storm in progress is the earliest observed.

The last contact we had with our rover was at Sol 5111 (June 10, 2018), now we think it is likely that Opportunity has experienced a low power failure and is just sleeping to wake up when the heavens finally clear. We started listening Opportunity in the sun 5112. I was a Geology Team Leader in our last meeting before suspending our scientific operations. Our rover landed on the slopes of the Perseverance Valley looking south and struggling to survive this dust storm. We decided to abandon robotic arm Opportunity deployed in the rocky target, La Joya.

There has been no signal from Opportunity during any of the possible failure windows up to this point. A formal listening strategy is in development during the coming months. It has been 20 days since we had our last contact of Opportunity . As of our last state report Opportunity today (June 30), this storm shows no signs of diminishing in the short term. We had the opportunity to make an uplink last night in the potential window of low power failures. We send a real-time activation of a beep as we have done in the last two weeks. We had a negative detection of the beep at the expected time.

  Green peak opacity: This graph compares atmospheric opacity in different years of Mars from the point of view of the NASA Opportunity rover. The green peak in 2018 (Mars Year 34) shows how fast the global dust storm that was forming on Mars erased the sky. A previous dust storm in 2007 (red, Mars Year 28) was slower to build. The vertical axis shows the atmospheric opacity and the horizontal axis shows the Martian station, which is measured by the place where the Sun is in the Martian sky compared to its apparent position in the spring equinox of the north of Mars. Image Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / TAMU

Green Peak Opacity: This graph compares atmospheric opacity in different years of Mars from NASA's Opportunity Rover viewpoint. The green peak in 2018 (Mars Year 34) shows how fast the global dust storm that was forming on Mars erased the sky. A previous dust storm in 2007 (red, Mars Year 28) was slower to build.
The vertical axis shows atmospheric opacity and the horizontal axis shows the Martian station, which is measured by the Sun in the Martian sky compared to its apparent position at the spring equinox of northern Mars. Image credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / TAMU

One of the latest scientific measures that Opportunity collected was what we call tau, which is a measure of optical depth, and informs us about how A lot of dust is in the atmosphere. This value of tau was calculated at 10.8, the highest (worst) ever recorded by a surface mission on Mars. The previous record was from Viking in 9. Opportunity survived a very severe storm in June-July 2007. This recent storm is much more serious and our rover is 11 years older ( The opportunity has been on the surface of the Red Planet since January 25, 2004).

We went from generating 645 healthy watts-hours on June 1 to an unprecedented, life-threatening, low about a week later. Our last power reading on June 10 was only 22 watts per hour, the lowest we have seen . The main concern is that we will not have enough energy to keep us warm enough to avoid damaging the electronic components of the vehicle. However, our thermal experts think that we will stay above those critical low temperatures because we have a Warm Electronic Box (WEB) that is well insulated. Therefore, we do not expect thermal damage to batteries or computer systems. Fortunately for us it is also the Martian Spring and dust, while hampering our solar energy in the day, helps us stay warmer at night.

Rumors of the death of Opportunity are very premature at this point and we are far from dead. It is a discouraging situation at this moment, there is no doubt about it, and we still have a long way to go in this our last challenge on the Red Planet. However, we have an impressive record of overcoming challenges over the past 14 and a half years and our team is the best in both worlds.

The previous update was written by Jim Rice, a Co-Investigator and Geology Team Leader in the Mars Exploration Rover Project and reflects his experiences working on the program

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Tagged: Storm Storm Lead Stories Mars NASA Opportunity

James Rice

Dr. Jim W. Rice, Jr., is an Astrogeologist at the Institute of Planetary Sciences, has more than 25 years of research experience specializing in surface geology and water history on Mars. Dr. Rice is currently a Co-researcher and leader of the geology team in the Mars Exploration Rover project (Spirit and Opportunity). Rice also has extensive experience in missions as a project badociate scientist on the Orbiter lunar reconnaissance projects and Mars Odyssey Orbiter. He has been involved in the selection and certification of landing sites on Mars for each NASA Mars mission from Mars Pathfinder. His career includes working for NASA, Astrogeology Headquarters of the United States Geological Survey, Mars Spaceflight Facility located at Arizona State University and Lunar and Planetary Laboratory located at the University of Arizona.


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