Unlike what was previously announced, NASA will continue its attempts to communicate with the rover Opportunity, silenced by the storm that enveloped Mars in the last few months, at least until January 2019.
Who is Opportunity?
Spirit rover (Twin of Opportunity)
The rover named Opportunity is a NASA robot built to live in the Martian desert for about 90 days. However, beating all records, it has exceeded the 5000 days of activity, continuing to transmit valuable information. Opportunity was landed on January 24, 2004 in Meridiani Planum, a region, which has the characteristic of being extremely flat, located near the Martian equator.
Once arrived at the destination, a routine of work began for the rover, which, except for minor inconveniences, continued with regularity. Opportunity, “wakes up” in the morning thanks to an internal alarm clock and immediately begins the execution of orders received from Earth the previous evening, as for example, the transfer of data and images collected the day before. In the following hours it receives instructions for the day, during which it moves on the surface of the planet to analyze the soil and the rocks surrounding them. At the end the rover enter a stand-by period, dedicated to recharging the on-board batteries through the equipped solar panels.
Among the main discoveries of Opportunity we have those who have gone down in history as “Martian blueberries”. According to experts, they seem to be soft rocks, rich in sulfur, dark and with characteristic small holes and shaped like little balls that looks like blueberries on a muffin. But there is more, because of the layered structure of the rocky bases on which these blue spheres lean, scientists can say that they have rocks of a sedimentary type, that is, deposited by the flow of water. After a series of in-depth analyzes, NASA announces that those rocks are actually the result of the passage of liquid water. Moreover, on their surface appear some voids that are interpreted as the result of the melting of some minerals, a phenomenon also produced by water. And then there are the salts, with such concentration that they may have been concentrated only through a process of water melting and storage concentration following evaporation of the water. Not bad for a “toy” designed to work only 90 days right?
Unfortunately, from 10 June 2018 Opportunity is stuck in silence on top of the Endeavor crater, due to a dust storm that has covered the entire planet, obscuring the sky and making it impossible to recharge the batteries through solar energy. However, scientists are confident, now there are signs that the global storm is weakening. With the dispersion of dust dispersed in the atmosphere, they hope that the sky returns to clear and the rover find again the conditions to fill up its batteries. The transparency of the Martian atmosphere is measured through the on-board camera of NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter that orbits around the planet. The parameter that defines it is called “tau”. To get an idea, before the storm was 0.5, during the storm the value rose to 10.8. To allow Opportunity’s photovoltaic panels to go into action it is necessary that tau is less than 2. Recently the value was around 2.5. For this reason the scientists decided to continue to “call” Opportunity at least until January 2019, hoping for an answer.
After a possible new first message it may take several weeks before a second contact. It’s like when you lose consciousness, it takes some time to recover. In fact, the technicians will have to carefully check the state of health of the rover before taking any initiative, they will first check the state of the batteries, the production of electricity and the clock. So Opportunity will take a nice selfie to show us how it is: cameras, any incrustation of dust and state of the “joints”. However, it is possible that he suffered damage that would prevent him from resuming his previous life and, in that case, even scientists will not be able to do anything. However, remember that we are talking about a rover designed to survive for only 90 days and continued, however, for over 5000 days of exploration: it may have deserved the right rest.
Mars reconaissance orbiter