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As dust storm clears, Nasa hopes Mars rover ‘Opportunity’ will restart with enough sunlight

The rover’s last communication with Earth was received on June 10, and Opportunity’s current health is unknown, Nasa said.

science Updated: Aug 31, 2018 14:46 IST
Nasa,Mars dust storm,Opportunity rover
Nasa's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity is shown in this handout photo released on July 29, 2014.(Reuters File Photo)

With the skies clearing over Opportunity rover’s resting spot in Mars, the solar-powered probe will soon receive enough sunlight to automatically initiate recovery procedures, Nasa said on Friday.

To prepare, the Opportunity mission team has developed a two-step plan to provide the highest probability of successfully communicating with the rover and bringing it back online, the US space agency said in a statement.

A planet-encircling dust storm on Mars, which was first detected on May 30 and halted operations for the nearly 15-year-old Opportunity rover, continues to abate, it said.

“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,” said John Callas, Opportunity project manager at Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in (JPL).

“When the tau level (a measure of the amount of particulate matter in the Martian sky) dips below 1.5, 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,” said Callas.

“Assuming that we hear back from Opportunity, we will begin the process of discerning its status and bringing it back online,” he said.

The rover’s last communication with Earth was received on June 10, and Opportunity’s current health is unknown, Nasa said.

A Martian crater called "Santa Maria" is seen in this image released by NASA. The rover ‘Opportunity’ landed on this crater, which has a diameter about the length of a football field. (Reuters File Photo)

Opportunity engineers are relying on the expertise of Mars scientists analysing data from the Mars Color Imager (MARCI) aboard Nasa’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) to estimate the tau near the rover’s position.

“The dust haze produced by the Martian global dust storm of 2018 is one of the most extensive on record, but all indications are it is finally coming to a close,” said MRO Project Scientist Rich Zurek at JPL.

“MARCI images of the Opportunity site have shown no active dust storms for some time within 3,000 kilometres of the rover site,” Zurek said.

Mission managers are hopeful the rover will attempt to call home, but they are also prepared for an extended period of silence, Nasa said.

First Published: Aug 31, 2018 14:46 IST