The Mars Dust Storm Is Over After Four Months, But We Still Don’t Know If Opportunity Rover Survived

The dust storm that has raged on Mars for the past four months is coming to an end, but it will be some time before scientists will know if the storm destroyed the Opportunity rover, or if the hearty little machine survived.

As previously reported by the Inquisitr, the Red Planet has been enveloped in a dust storm all summer. Martian dust storms are unlike Earth dust storms. On Mars, they encircle the entire planet, and they last for months.

Caught in the middle of it all has been the Opportunity rover, dutifully sitting down on the surface and weathering the storm in the most literal possible sense. Unfortunately, the storm has covered the rover’s solar panels, denying it the sunlight it needs for its systems to operate. The device has been in “sleep” mode ever since the storm.

Now, however, the storm is breaking, says Opportunity Project Manager John Callas, via NASA.

“The Sun is breaking through the haze over Perseverance Valley, and soon there will be enough sunlight present that Opportunity should be able to recharge its batteries.”

Over the next few days, scientists will be closely monitoring the tau level – that is, the level of particulates in the Martian atmosphere – analyzing data from the Mars Color Imager (MARCI) aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO).

Once the tau level gets below 1.5, NASA will try to make contact with the device again.

“We will begin a period of actively attempting to communicate with the rover by sending it commands via the antennas of NASA’s Deep Space Network. Assuming that we hear back from Opportunity, we will begin the process of discerning its status and bringing it back online.”

Right now, NASA is playing a waiting game to try to determine if the rover survived the storm. Callas says they’re giving it 45 days, after which they’re going to have to conclude that Opportunity’s mission has come to an end.

“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.”

However, even after 45 days, hope will linger; Callas says that NASA will be doing “passive listening” to the device, hoping against hope that perhaps a rogue wind has cleared the dust off the rover’s solar panels and allowed it to come back to life.