The Mars Rover encountered a severe Dust Storm and went to Sleep Mode

The Mars Rover encountered a severe Dust Storm and went to Sleep Mode

Opportunity Rover is in complete darkness as a huge dust storm takes control of the Martian sky.

Mars, the most preferred destination for an alternative habitat for humanity, is facing a massive dust storm these days which has engulfed nearly one-fourth of the red planet. The clouds of dust have led to a permanent darkness due to which the batteries of Opportunity Rover are not being charged as it is a solar-powered satellite. Contrary to that, Curiosity Rover continues to send data, showing the severity of the situation on the planet, as it powered by a radioactive source.

According to the engineers, Opportunity Rover has gone offline because it tripped a low-power level. It is in sleep mode nowadays and is waiting for its batteries to get charged to a substantial level so that it could begin its working again. The last image of Mars from this satellite was received on 10th of June. NASA mentioned the seriousness of the scenario by saying,

The Martian dust storm has grown in size and is now officially a ‘planet-encircling’ (or ‘global’) dust event.

The Opportunity Rover has a master clock which checks battery charge after a fixed interval. The satellite comes to life for this operation and goes back to sleep if the required level of electric charge is not attained. A new time of inspection is set and it stays at rest till then. Another level of power saving is incorporated in the rover which is initiated when power levels become extremely low. When this state is achieved, the clock also goes to sleep. However, the onboard software of the satellite is programmed in a way that it turns the system on automatically once the batteries are adequately charged. The computer looks for the presence of Sun in the sky and if it is detected, a signal is sent to our planet.

The electronic equipment of the Opportunity Rover is protected by the radioactive decay of Plutonium as temperatures can drop considerably.  There are 8 Radioisotope Heater Units and all of them generate nearly one watt of heat energy individually. According to the statement of NASA, the satellite will come through this spell safely as it was designed to survive the freezing temperatures during hibernation. NASA officials told the world about that in the following words:

A recent analysis of the rover’s long-term survivability in Mars’ extreme cold suggests Opportunity’s electronics and batteries can stay warm enough to function. Regardless, the project doesn’t expect to hear back from Opportunity until the skies begin to clear over the rover. That doesn’t stop them from listening for the rover every day.

Mars was hit by a dust storm in 2007 prior to the latest one. At that time, Opportunity was exploring the planet and NASA’s contact with it was lost following low power levels. Having said that, it kick-started again when sufficient supply of sunlight was available. This time around, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter of NASA detected the storm on 30th May. When scientists were confident that the Opportunity Rover will be affected by that, they ordered the satellite to go into a survival mode. The communication between NASA and Opportunity Rover was interrupted on 12th June when a check-in call was missed by the miraculous satellite. Before ceasing all the scientific operations, it sent a series of images which showed how dust spread all over the Martian sky.

The team members of the Opportunity Mission are quite hopeful that the satellite will make its way through these difficult conditions as John Callas, the Project Manager of the mission at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory of NASA, said,

We should be able to ride out this storm. We’re concerned, but we’re hopeful that the storm will clear and the rover will begin to communicate to us.

Although they are quite hopeful, the team members of the mission did acknowledge that the present scenario is something completely new for Opportunity Rover as it has never experienced anything as thick as this dust. The satellite has gone into a ‘Low Power Fault Mode’ where everything is closed except for the clock of the rover. Scientists are hopeful that the storm would blow away and their beloved satellite will wake up once again but as of now, they are being forced to wait and pray. Callas said,

So, at this point, we’re in a waiting mode. We’re listening every day for possible signals from the rover, and we’ll be prepared to respond to that.

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