It’s been four months since the Opportunity rover went offline on Mars and, while everyone is rooting for the little machine to wake up, NASA has yet to receive any signal from the stranded robot.
The space agency lost contact with the rover — endearingly dubbed Oppy — on June 10, after a massive dust storm broke out on Mars, blocking out the sun and keeping the robot from charging its solar-powered batteries.
Cut out from the energy it needs to keep functioning, Oppy entered into an enforced state of hibernation and has been silent ever since — even though the Martian dust storm eventually subsided.
With the skies clearing over Oppy, NASA was hoping that the 14-year-old rover would finally charge its batteries and call home — especially since the amount of haze in the Martian atmosphere, also known as tau, dropped below 1.5 last month.
That’s well below the level required for the robot to be able to receive sunlight and power up once again, the Inquisitr recently reported.
Given the circumstances, NASA initiated a 45-day campaign of “active listening,” per a previous Inquisitr report, and started sending commands to the Mars rover multiple times a day — as opposed to just three times a week, which was the norm.
Thirty days into the campaign, there’s still no sign from Oppy but we do have an update from NASA. Although the situation is looking pretty grim for the venerable robot, the space agency still holds out hope that the rover will eventually get back online.
Aside from the Martian darkness, the Opportunity rover is also braving the harsh cold on the red planet. Without energy, the robot can’t turn on its heaters and warm itself up. Another problem is the dust which may have set on Oppy’s solar panels, keeping them from receiving sunlight.
“It’s possible that a layer of dust deposited on the rover’s solar panels by the recent global dust storm is blocking sunlight that could recharge its batteries. No one can tell just how much dust has been deposited on its panels,” states the update from NASA.
Once the 45 days have passed, the space agency will reassess its recovery strategy. According to Space, NASA plans to continue listening for Oppy’s “voice” — albeit in a more passive mode — at least through January.
“NASA hasn’t set deadlines for the mission, and will be briefed later this month on progress and prospects for the active recovery campaign,” Oppy’s team tweeted on October 11.
#OppyPhoneHome Update— Spirit and Oppy (@MarsRovers) October 11, 2018
One month since increasing commanding frequency, we've yet to hear from Opportunity. @NASA hasn't set deadlines for the mission, and will be briefed later this month on progress and prospects for the active recovery campaign. https://t.co/YvoDCwT3Vw pic.twitter.com/6pXoUXfRXf
The good news is that Mars is headed for a three-month windy period, which could provide an answer to Oppy’s present predicament.
“A windy period on Mars — known to Opportunity’s team as ‘dust-clearing season’ — occurs in the November-to-January time frame and has helped clean the rover’s panels in the past. The team remains hopeful that some dust clearing may result in hearing from the rover in this period,” explained NASA officials.
Meanwhile, NASA’s other Mars rover — Curiosity — is dealing with some problems of its own. Although unaffected by the Martian dust storm, the nuclear-powered robot has experienced a technical setback in mid-September and has recently switched “brains” until NASA engineers can figure out what went wrong with its long-term memory, the Inquisitr reported earlier this month.