JAN 14, 2019 04:31 PM PST

Will We Ever Hear From NASA's Opportunity Rover Again?

NASA’s Opportunity rover landed on the Martian surface on January 25th, 2004 to explore in the name of science, but mission scientists weren’t expecting the rover to survive more than 90 sols (Martian days) at the time. Fast-forward to now, and Opportunity has done nothing but continue to surprise us all.

The Opportunity rover celebrated its 5,000-sol milestone in February 2018, but just a few months later, Opportunity would be in for a considerable challenge. Mars was brewing a wicked planet-wide dust storm, and the skies quickly became too dense for Opportunity’s solar panels to absorb any sunlight.

An artist's rendition of a healthy Opportunity rover.

Image Credit: NASA

Shortly after the dust storm materialized in June, Opportunity delivered a status report to NASA scientists, and it wasn’t long after we received those radio signals from the distressed rover that it fell entirely silent. The Opportunity rover had entered a deep sleep known as hibernation mode, and despite several attempts to reestablish a connection, NASA hasn’t heard back since.

Related: Martian dust storm clears, sparking hope for the Opportunity rover

If anything’s certain, it’s that the American space agency hasn’t given up on the Opportunity rover just yet. While it’s entirely possible that the Opportunity rover has finally kicked the bucket, it’s also conceivable that residual sand from the dust storm has caked itself on top of Opportunity’s solar arrays, preventing the rover from waking up from its slumber.

Assuming the latter is true, then passing winds or even another dust storm could potentially clear the debris from the rover’s solar panels. It’s still dust storm season on Mars, but unfortunately, there haven’t been any dust storms powerful enough to do so since last Summer’s monster storm came and went.

NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) continuously scans Mars’ surface as it orbits the red planet, and photographs returned by the MRO reveal where the Opportunity rover has become stuck. Unfortunately, those images aren’t sharp enough for scientists to discern whether the rover’s solar panels are covered in sand or not.

Related: The Curiosity rover's wheels are starting to break down

NASA continues to rely on the Deep Space Network (DSN), a radio dish array that can scan for signals from Mars’ Opportunity rover, but with the red planet’s Winter season closing in, NASA’s limited time window to hear from Opportunity and turn it back on is quickly closing.

Despite what looks like precarious situation for NASA’s Opportunity rover, the space agency’s nuclear-powered Curiosity rover continues to operate at full capacity. Without solar arrays, Curiosity can function regardless of sunlight availability, and NASA’s upcoming Mars 2020 rover will follow in Curiosity’s solar-less footsteps.

Whether the Opportunity rover makes it out or not, it seems NASA will have other rovers to explore the Martian surface with for many years to come.

Source: Universe Today

About the Author
  • Fascinated by scientific discoveries and media, Anthony found his way here at LabRoots, where he would be able to dabble in the two. Anthony is a technology junkie that has vast experience in computer systems and automobile mechanics, as opposite as those sound.
You May Also Like
NOV 26, 2018
Space & Astronomy
NOV 26, 2018
Here's What An ISS Resupply Launch Looks Like From Space
Filmed rocket launches have become the norm here on Earth, but most cameras are situated at ground level, either shooting the takeoff from the launchpad or...
DEC 17, 2018
Space & Astronomy
DEC 17, 2018
According to NASA, Saturn's Rings Are Disappearing
Only a handful of worlds in the solar system sport planetary rings, but Saturn’s are the most robust. You’ve unquestionably seen Saturn’s...
DEC 19, 2018
Space & Astronomy
DEC 19, 2018
This is One of the Coldest Known Places in the Universe
Discerning the coldest place in the universe is no easy task; after all, we don’t have an ultra-long thermometer that we can merely extend out to the...
JAN 15, 2019
Space & Astronomy
JAN 15, 2019
Are You Prepared for This Weekend's Super Blood Wolf Moon Eclipse?
Nighttime sky gazers are in for a beautiful treat this weekend as the Moon prepares to put on a spectacular show. Beginning Sunday, January 20th at approxi...
JAN 16, 2019
Chemistry & Physics
JAN 16, 2019
Second Repeating Fast Radio Bursts Detected
Scientists working at Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment, or CHIME, announced that they have detected a total of 13 fast radio bursts in July a...
FEB 17, 2019
Space & Astronomy
FEB 17, 2019
RemoveDEBRIS Mission Demonstrates Use of Harpoon for Space Junk Cleanup
An estimated 7.5 metric tons’ worth of space junk, including dispatched satellites and spent rocket components, orbits the Earth today; unfortunately...
Loading Comments...