As happens occasionally, a giant dust storm has arisen on Mars and the resulting cloudy sky has cut power to the Opportunity rover. Unlike the nuclear powered Curiosity, “Oppy” uses solar panels to supply its energy needs. The rover has been operating since landing on the Red Planet on Jan. 25, 2004 and survived a big storm in 2007 but this one appears much worse and may last longer.
NASA will hold a media teleconference today at 10:30 am PDT (1:30 p.m. EDT) to discuss the Martian dust storm and the status of Opportunity.
According to the latest update, Oppy has gone into a power saving state from which there is no guarantee it will recover: Opportunity Hunkers Down During Dust Storm
NASA engineers attempted to contact the Opportunity rover today but did not hear back from the nearly 15-year old rover. The team is now operating under the assumption that the charge in Opportunity’s batteries has dipped below 24 volts and the rover has entered low power fault mode, a condition where all subsystems, except a mission clock, are turned off. The rover’s mission clock is programmed to wake the computer so it can check power levels.
If the rover’s computer determines that its batteries don’t have enough charge, it will again put itself back to sleep. Due to an extreme amount of dust over Perseverance Valley, mission engineers believe it is unlikely the rover has enough sunlight to charge back up for at least the next several days.
The Martian dust storm that has blotted out the sun above Opportunity has continued to intensify. The storm, which was first detected on May 30, now blankets 14-million square miles (35-million square kilometers) of Martian surface — a quarter of the planet.