The Mars Opportunity rover is caught in a dust storm, and the craft is hunkered down doing its best to survive the intensifying weather. The storm was first detected on Friday June 1st by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, at which point the rover’s team was notified because of the weather event’s proximity to Opportunity. The rover uses solar panels, so a dust storm could have an extremely negative impact on Opportunity’s power levels and its batteries.
By Wednesday June 6th, Opportunity was in minimal operations mode because of sharply decreasing power levels. The brave little rover is continuing to weather the storm; it sent a transmission back to Earth Sunday morning, which is a good sign. It means there’s still enough charge left in the batteries to communicate with home, despite the fact that the storm is continuing to worsen. The blue dot below is where NASA thinks Opportunity is located in the storm.
The main concern here isn’t the dust storm itself. It’s the need to keep the rover’s heaters operational while maintaining a minimal power level in the batteries. This isn’t the first storm that Opportunity has weathered, but it is the worst. According to NASA, the weather event the rover faced in 2007 had an opacity level around 5.5. The estimate for this current storm is somewhere around 10.8.
Opportunity is a hardy little rover, though, and it has continually defied our expectations over the last 15 years. The rover was only designed to last for a 90-day mission, and yet it’s still going. Here’s hoping that Oppy will continue its trek across the Martian surface for many, many days to come.