A massive dust storm on Mars started regionally in late May.  By June 20th, it had overtaken the entire planet.  NASA has two operational rovers on the surface of the red planet.  Curiosity is nuclear powered, and has stayed in contact with Earth through the storm.  Opportunity is solar powered and hasn’t been heard from in over two months.  And, the silence is deafening. 

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Opportunity has survived long past its original mission.  It and its twin, Spirit, arrived on the surface of Mars in early 2004.  Their three-month mission was to search for signs of past water activity on the planet.  They found many signs of water and collected a lot of useful data; and they kept going.  Spirit got stuck in a sand trap in March, 2010.  According to space.com, it couldn’t adjust to get battery-charging sun exposure and froze in the winter that followed.  Spirit was declared dead in 2011.  But, Opportunity has been going strong.  Until June.

Side-by-side movies shows how dust has enveloped the Red Planet, courtesy of the Mars Color Imager (MARCI) camera onboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO).


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The dust from the global storm became too thick for Opportunity to charge its batteries, and the NASA team believes, it put itself into hibernation mode.  Despite attempts to contact Opportunity several times a week during appointed “wake up” times, Engineers have heard nothing since it’s last communication on June 10.  But they have reason to look on the bright side.  The winds have died down in recent weeks, though the dust is still too thick for Opportunity to charge.  They wrote this in an update called Six Things About Opportunity’s Recovery Efforts.

“No one will know how the rover is doing until it speaks.”…  “Because the batteries were in relatively good health before the storm, there’s not likely to be too much degradation. And because dust storms tend to warm the environment — and the 2018 storm happened as Opportunity’s location on Mars entered summer — the rover should have stayed warm enough to survive.”

So, cross your fingers and keep your spirit up.  Opportunity might be waiting for just that.  



Jenny Flack
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