NASA‘s Opportunity Rover is still quiet. It hasn’t communicated with Earth since June 10, when a planet-wide dust storm began shrouding Mars in darkness. NASA is in active recovery mode, but that won’t last long. This may be Opportunity’s last.
The Opportunity mission team has been hailing the rover in a 45 day “active-listening campaign” that kicked off on September 11. That’s when scientists believe the dust had settled enough for Opportunity’s solar panels to start soaking up some much needed energy. That 45 days is nearly up. If there’s no sign of life from Opportunity at the end of active-listening, NASA will need to reassess their recovery efforts. Scientists will still be listening in a more passive way for Opportunity to ping until at least January, before the project is scrapped for good. Team members hope that won’t happen.
The fear is that without energy for heaters or the ability to charge for so long, Opportunity could be mired in dust or have frozen in the bitter Martian cold. Team members have hope. There is a “dust clearing” season that’s about to hit Mars. Between November and January, high winds hit the red planet and that could be just what Opportunity needs to clear its solar panels. Those winds have helped for that purpose before in Opportunity’s nearly 15 years on Mars. That’s according to space.com and an update on nasa.gov.
There are no dates set for Opportunity’s fate. In the meantime, team members are listening.