NASA spots dust-covered Mars rover on planet’s surface as it waits to hear back
While NASA continues to wait to hear back from its Opportunity Rover, the space agency was able to recently spot the long-absent spacecraft on the surface of Mars.
The U.S. space agency has not heard from the Mars Opportunity Rover since back June 10, which is when the Red Planet was overtaken by a global dust storm. Most of the dust has settled as of now, and that’s how NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter was able to make the image of Opportunity on the planet’s surface using its high-resolution camera.
“That object is Opportunity, which was descending into the Martian valley when a dust storm swept over the region a little more than 100 days ago,” NASA reports on its website. “The storm was one of several that stirred up enough dust to enshroud most of the Red Planet and block sunlight from reaching the surface.
“The lack of sunlight caused the solar-powered Opportunity to go into hibernation. The rover’s team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, hasn’t heard from it since. On Sept. 11, JPL began increasing the frequency of commands it beams to the 14-year-old rover.”
This news that NASA has amped up its frequency to reach the rover comes shortly on the heels of the space agency giving Opportunity an ultimatum to wake up before it scales back on communication attempts.
NASA previously said that it has a two-step plan “to provide the highest probability of successfully communicating with the rover and bringing it back online.” In a more playful manner, the space agency has also been playing a wake-up-themed song each day in an attempt to “inspire” Opportunity into waking up.
Supporters of the long-tenured rover can even hop on NASA’s website and send it a well-wishes postcard.
“If we do not hear back after 45 days, the team will be forced to conclude that the Sun-blocking dust and the Martian cold have conspired to cause some type of fault from which the rover will more than likely not recover,” John Callas, Opportunity project manager, said in a previous news release.
“At that point our active phase of reaching out to Opportunity will be at an end. However, in the unlikely chance that there is a large amount of dust sitting on the solar arrays that is blocking the Sun’s energy, we will continue passive listening efforts for several months.”
The Opportunity rover has lasted nearly 15 years in action despite only being designed for a 90-day mission back in 2003. On top of that, the rover was designed to travel about 1,000 yards while it has logged more than 28 miles in reality.