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    The Opportunity rover might be in danger

    Gizmodo

    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.
    Good luck and Godspeed little guy.
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  • #2

    It's like what happened to Mark Watney in The Martian. The good news is that we've got two more rovers going up there soon, so hopefully if anything does happen to it, they'll be able to pull it out of trouble.
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    • #3

      One might think, given the amount of money that they spend on stuff like this, that they'd give these rovers the ability to retract stuff like their solar panels in situations like this. It is pretty much a known thing that Mars is subject to some pretty catastrophic storms, so why couldn't they plan for them?
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      • #4

        Originally posted by Rick Canaan View Post
        One might think, given the amount of money that they spend on stuff like this, that they'd give these rovers the ability to retract stuff like their solar panels in situations like this. It is pretty much a known thing that Mars is subject to some pretty catastrophic storms, so why couldn't they plan for them?
        It's not getting the panels dusty that's the problem, it's the fact that it can't get enough light energy to keep its heaters running (it prevents the batteries from freezing).

        Also, adding more mechanisms like that is costly, adds to launch weight and is an additional system that can break. Besides, the rovers themselves were designed to run for just 90 days, so their mission has been outside of parameters (albeit in a good way) for a long time now.
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        • #5

          And the rover has missed its latest check-in. That might mean it's in failsafe mode, or it could mean it's dead. We'll have to wait for a while to know for sure.
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          • #6

            'Oh I see!' said the blind man, and he picked up his hammer and saw!

            I was under the impression that the solar panels were in danger of being blown off or damaged by the high winds and high-velocity particulates. It hadn't occurred to me it was light-occlusion problem.

            Well, silly me. Guess that's why I'm not a NASA engineer.
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            • #7

              Yeah, people tend to forget that Mars' atmosphere is a lot thinner than Earth's.

              The dust storms are still one of the biggest problems with putting a probe on Mars, though. While you don't really have to worry about water damage, you need to protect anything you send from dust contamination (which NASA has gotten very good at).

              The thing is, while they're vulnerable to problems on a planet like Mars, solar panels are the single most efficient power supply you can deploy for exploration in the inner solar system. You don't need to worry about factoring in any reaction mass for you power-source, just some relatively lightweight silicon panels that will supply all the energy you need so long as you expose them to strong enough sunlight.

              A nuclear power source is also possible (and is the only viable power source out beyond the asteroid belt), but has it's own problems, which is probably why NASA doesn't use them for exploration of Mars.
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              • #8

                Originally posted by Arratra View Post
                Yeah, people tend to forget that Mars' atmosphere is a lot thinner than Earth's.
                Quite. Popular culture depicts being in a dust storm as similar to being in a hurricane, but in reality even the most powerful would be barely felt at all: The Fact and Fiction of Martian Dust Storms
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                • #9

                  The storm going on on Mars is also the worst dust storm in recorded Martian history from what I recall (although the worry is really only about not enough light; as far as I'm aware martian storms aren't strong enough to kick up the sorta debris that would cause physical damage). Another problem is the rover has no way to remove dust from its panels, so even if it would otherwise survive there's the possibility that after the storm passes it'll still be unable to get enough power.


                  Originally posted by Arratra View Post
                  Yeah, people tend to forget that Mars' atmosphere is a lot thinner than Earth's.

                  The dust storms are still one of the biggest problems with putting a probe on Mars, though. While you don't really have to worry about water damage, you need to protect anything you send from dust contamination (which NASA has gotten very good at).

                  The thing is, while they're vulnerable to problems on a planet like Mars, solar panels are the single most efficient power supply you can deploy for exploration in the inner solar system. You don't need to worry about factoring in any reaction mass for you power-source, just some relatively lightweight silicon panels that will supply all the energy you need so long as you expose them to strong enough sunlight.

                  A nuclear power source is also possible (and is the only viable power source out beyond the asteroid belt), but has it's own problems, which is probably why NASA doesn't use them for exploration of Mars.
                  The Curiosity rover is nuclear Nuclear generator powers Curiosity Mars mission - MIT Technology Review
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                  • #10

                    Ah, whoops. Neglected to check my facts.

                    Anyway; I hope the rover survives the experience, though given that this is the worst Martian storm ever recorded, I'm really just hoping that the winds blow the dust off of the solar panels.
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                    • #11

                      No word from Mars rover as dust storm worsens - CBS News

                      NASA's Deep Space Network has not heard a peep from Opportunity, a Mars rover, since the robot fell silent June 10, drained of power in a dust storm that has turned day into night on the red planet, preventing sunlight from reaching the rover's solar cells.

                      Project Manager John Callas said Friday flight controllers are listening every day just in case Opportunity manages to beam a signal back to Earth. But given the dust storm's severity, it could be weeks before they learn if the hardy robot survived its trial by dust.

                      "No change," Callas said in a telephone interview. "No word from Opportunity. We've been listening every day (but) the dust storm has actually gotten worse, it's become a planet-encircling dust event. The last indications were that there were no signs of its abating. Is it a week? Is it a month? No one knows at this point."
                      There's still a possibility of survival. But I have a feeling it's growing quite remote now.
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                      • #12

                        Dust storms on Mars can sometimes last for years.

                        If that happens, then that poor little rover is going to have to be written off. A shame.

                        ...

                        I wonder if Elon Musk is taking note of this. If he still plans to go to Mars, he'd be smart to bring himself one heck of a storm shelter, eh?
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                        • #13

                          I believe there are two more rovers planned to go up in the next fe years. If the storm lasts a while, it might end up being a rescue mission. Opportunity is nuclear powered, as was mentioned, so it might be able to just sit there and stay warm. Not a whole lot else it can do at the moment, it seems.
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                          • #14

                            Curiosity might actually survive the duration of the storm, since the dust will keep the temperature fairly stable, potentially at a temperature that won't damage the batteries. It's what happens when the storm (finally) subsides and the dust settles that might deal the death blow.

                            If too much dust settles on the solar panels, then that's it; the next Martian night, the rover's internal temperature plummets, and the batteries freeze.

                            At least, that's what the information I've seen seems to be pointing towards.
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                            • #15

                              Originally posted by Arratra View Post
                              Curiosity might actually survive the duration of the storm, since the dust will keep the temperature fairly stable, potentially at a temperature that won't damage the batteries. It's what happens when the storm (finally) subsides and the dust settles that might deal the death blow.

                              If too much dust settles on the solar panels, then that's it; the next Martian night, the rover's internal temperature plummets, and the batteries freeze.

                              At least, that's what the information I've seen seems to be pointing towards.
                              I think you meant Opportunity.

                              And I think Daryn meant Curiosity. Curiosity is the RTG powered one.
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                              • #16

                                Uh, yeah. Just swap those two and we're both right! Yeah, that's the ticket!
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                                • #17

                                  Whoops.Yeah.
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                                  • #18

                                    Some good news, the storm might be decaying.

                                    NASA: Mars dust storm may finally be calming down - CNET

                                    Mars is a bit of a mess right now.

                                    The Red Planet is in the middle of a global dust storm that has forced one Mars rover into hibernation and left another working through hazy conditions. The storm kicked up in late May.

                                    Scott Guzewich, a member of the Curiosity rover team, posted a mission update to a NASA blog on Friday noting a slow decline over the last two weeks in the amount of dust seen over Gale Crater. He says "it's possible the dust storm has reached its 'peak.'"
                                    But it still takes a bit for the dust to settle out. Also it seems the JPL blog post they linked to has vanished.
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