According to NASA‘s last week release, the Opportunity Rover was hit by gigantic dust storms on Mars. Opportunity, which landed on Mars in 2004 was significantly affected by the storms around June 06, 2018 and had to shut off its operations. “As soon as the orbiter team saw how close the storm was to Opportunity, they notified the rover’s team to begin preparing contingency plans,” reads NASA’s official report. “In a matter of days, the storm had ballooned.” The storms were first detected by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter on June 01.
While the first release did not sound too hopeful about Opportunity’s fate, an updated report from NASA on June 10 reports that scientists have received transmissions from Opportunity even amidst the storms getting stronger and intenser. The team working on the rover has pumped up their gears and will be closely monitoring everything because the transmissions received on Sunday morning look better.
Opportunity though is no stranger to dust storms. You might be surprised to know that it was created only for a 90-day mission on Mars. So, technically it has already outlived its planned lifespan by 14 years. In July 2007, Opportunity bravely survived even stronger dust storms. Because the rover survives on solar power, dust storms are never a great help, they create clouds of dust around the rover and the amount of sunlight is significantly reduced. In situations like these, the rover goes into survival mode and communicates only when the low power reserve allows. This is how Opportunity got through the 2007 storms and scientists are hopeful that this is how it will survive now too.
The report says that while storms like these on Mars are not a huge shock or surprise, they are mostly infrequent. They are sudden and may last up to a few weeks but sometimes they may last up to months. If these storms persist for too long it wouldn’t be too great for Opportunity because the Cold has always been a problem for rovers on Mars. If Opportunity gets too cold, it may follow the footsteps of NASA’s Spirit Rover. Spirit died in 2010 because of very fewer amounts of sunlight leading up to extremely low internal temperatures. While Opportunity has clearly outlived Spirit, we keep our fingers crossed that it will survive the recent storms too.