Giant storm on Mars does not «bury» the Rover Opportunity, said NASA

© NASA/JPL-Caltech/MIA storm, threatening the life of the Opportunity RoverGiant storm on Mars does not «bury» the Rover Opportunity, said NASA© NASA/JPL-Caltech/Des to daily updates RIA Science

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A powerful dust storm that engulfed the entire Mars, it is unlikely to «bury» the Rover Opportunity under a pile of sand, but can «freeze» it, if it continues for several months, and the temperature of the planet will be abnormally low, said scientists at a press briefing at the jet propulsion Laboratory of NASA.

«One of the main mysteries of Mars is that we don’t know why such storms occur, not every season and why they sometimes cover nearly the entire planet. We have 20 years of observing Mars, and haven’t seen such a mediocre regional storm had grown to the size of planetary storms, affecting not only the Opportunity, and Curiosity on the other side of the planet,» said Richard Zurek (Richard Zurek), scientific Director of the mission.

The Rover Opportunity operating on the surface of Mars for 14 years, recently successfully went through the most difficult months of the Martian winter – the cold and dark time of year, when the red planet is farthest from the Sun.

The only source of heat and energy onboard Opportunity, unlike the Curiosity Rover, equipped with radioisotope generators are solar panels, the efficiency of which decreases sharply at the onset of winter and autumn for two reasons.

In addition to increasing the distance between the Sun and Mars, the Rover’s life is complicated by dust storms that start in the late Martian autumn and continued almost throughout the winter. These storms cover battery Rover a large amount of sand, which further reduces their efficiency.

NASA engineers found a clever way out of this dangerous situation, stopping the Rover every winter and fall and tilting its solar panels so that they will simultaneously get the most light, and the sand will not accumulate on their surface. In the presence of very steep hills this allows the Opportunity to continue to move around on Mars and explore its surface even during the winter.

Despite the official end of «season of storms», two weeks ago, the endeavour crater where Opportunity is now, covered by a powerful dust storm, dramatically complicating the life of the Rover veteran and a scientist of NASA.

Dust the Eclipse

«On the morning of 30 may, our colleagues, watching the Mars orbital stations, reported that near the endeavour crater there was a small dust storm. Initially we were not worried and did not cancel the three-day plan to explore Mars, which at this moment played the Rover. The very next day the dust concentration in the atmosphere has increased by almost two times,» says John Callas (John Callas), head of mission at NASA.

As the scientist, Monday, June 4, the dust became so much that the solar panels of the Rover started to produce two times less energy than before the storm. This forced the research team Opportunity to undo all the research and put the Rover in low-power mode, disabling all of its scientific instruments.

«The next day on Mars became so dark that we just are unable to measure the level of dust in the air. All we could find – the efficiency of solar panels has fallen to 25%, which forced us to temporarily disable the radio transmitters, the Opportunity for one day in order to accumulate a sufficient amount of energy for subsequent communication sessions with the Earth,» says planetary scientist.

On Sunday, June 10, the dust concentration, according to a further decline in the efficiency of the battery has reached record levels, and on Mars, as Callas put it, «it is eternal night.» Solar panels of the Rover, according to him, started to produce so little energy that there is a threat to the life of the device, which forced NASA to translate it into a «state of emergency» until the time when the storm will end.

«A relative in a coma»

«Once we moved Opportunity in safe mode on Monday, we constantly observe Mars with radiotrack DSN, but we have not yet managed to establish a connection with the Rover. If the battery will receive less than 22 watts of energy per hour, his watch, the last active system will shut down and we will have more difficulty after his «awakening», — said the scientist.

As pointed Callas, Opportunity’s life while nothing was seriously threatened – despite the enormous number of dust particles in the atmosphere, it will not be able to «bury» the Rover in the soil of Mars, and is unlikely to fully cover its solar panels or incapacitate its wheels and other moving parts.

The single greatest threat to the life of the Rover remains the fact that now he can’t warm himself, with the exception of a small number of plutonium «heaters» in his case. If air temperature falls below the mark of 40 degrees Celsius below zero, then the batteries of the Rover can fail. Something similar happened with «twin» Opportunity, Mars Rover Spirit, stuck on one of the slopes of the crater endeavour.

«We have already conducted a series of simulations using the data that the Rover had collected before the trip. These calculations show that temperature is unlikely to fall below the level of minus 36 degrees, and as such we will be able to study so much, how many you will need for survival in such conditions. In addition, now on Mars, the summer comes, and the longer the storm, the easier it will be for the Rover to carry it,» added Zurek.

However, as acknowledged by Callas, now the mission is very worried about the Rover, and refer to it as the scientist put it, «as a close relative in a coma,» which can last for several months.

Season of storms

The duration of the storm, according to planetary scientists, yet it is impossible to predict – it is necessary to measure the maximum height, which rises the dust. If dust enters the upper atmosphere of Mars, then the storm can last for several months and cover the entire planet.

His traces, as added Jim Watson (Jim Watzin), head of the program of studying of Mars in the headquarters of NASA, was visible not only in the endeavour crater, but for the Curiosity Rover, in fact working for the other «side» of the planet in crater Gail.

Nuclear power plant of the Rover, as the official stressed, makes this storm is unpleasant, but not dangerous surprise for him – all the tools, including cameras, «big brother» Opportunity, now working fine.

Now and Curiosity, and the orbital constellation of NASA and ESA to conduct joint monitoring of the dust to assess the conditions in which the Rover is a veteran and threatens his life if something more serious than low temperature. As scientists hope that everything will end happily, and the Rover is a veteran of successfully coming out of the coma in order to continue its 14 year of operation on Mars.