If you weren’t already aware, NASA’s solar-powered Opportunity rover is in a bit of a pickle right now. A continent-sized dust storm enveloped the rover and is blocking critical sunlight from reaching its solar panels, forcing it into a low-power state until the storm passes over.
NASA planned to keep in touch with Opportunity throughout the course of the dust storm to ensure its well-being, but the rover didn’t respond to contact attempts on Tuesday, triggering worry among space agency staff.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/TAMU
"At this point, we’re in a waiting mode. We’re listening every day for possible signals from the rover and are prepared to respond to that," explained Opportunity project manager John Callas at a NASA press conference on Wednesday.
"We’re concerned, but we’re hopeful that the storm will clear and the rover will begin to communicate with us."
The two biggest worries at the moment are: 1) that the dust storm will persist beyond Opportunity’s limited battery capacity, and 2) that the temperature could dip low enough to damage the rover’s vital onboard equipment.
NASA remains optimistic about the latter situation, suggesting that a combination of factors such as the Martian Summer and the dust’s insulating effects will keep the environment warm enough to prevent damage.
As of now, the space agency continues to leverage all available resources for monitoring the dust storm, including the nuclear-powered Curiosity rover and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. But all the monitoring capabilities in the world won’t relieve the stress of the current situation.
“This team has a very strong bond with the rover, and we have a tight emotional connection with it,” Callas added.
“By no means are we out of the woods here. This storm is threatening, and we don’t know how long it will last and what the environment will be like when it clears. We’re all concerned.”
There’s no telling if or when Opportunity will begin communicating with engineers again, but NASA won’t stop trying to get in touch with it. It should be interesting to see what becomes of the situation.