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Mars rovers: Satellite, artist images show Opportunity rover location



mars opportunity rover dust solar panels nasa jpl caltech PIA17759
solar panels of NASA’s Mars Opportunity rover covered with dust
in January 2014.

Univ./Arizona State Univ.

  • A dust storm that enveloped Mars in
    June is finally clearing up.
  • NASA’s Opportunity rover slept
    through the storm to keep its batteries charged, but the robot
    has yet to wake up and contact NASA.
  • Opportunity will fail if its batteries can’t power
    heaters, since they protect the robot from frigid,
    circuit-snapping temperatures

    on Mars.
  • A satellite orbiting Mars took a photo of the rover,
    which — along with 3D illustrations — shows the exact hill
    where Opportunity is located.
  • NASA may give up trying to contact the rover on a daily basis
    after October, perhaps signaling the 15-year-old mission’s end.

A satellite orbiting Mars has taken a remarkable and potentially
somber photo of NASA’s longest-lived robot on the red planet.

The Mars Opportunity rover, which is about the size of a golf
cart, landed in January 2004 and was supposed to last 90 days.
However, it has explored Mars for
more than 15 years
using solar energy while trekking more
than 28 miles across the distant world.

days may be numbered
, though.

When a
global dust storm
began to envelope Mars about 100 days ago,
Opportunity stopped getting enough sunlight to its solar panels.
This triggered it to go to sleep and conserve battery power,
which the rover needs to run heaters that protect its circuits
from blistering Martian cold.

“A lack of sunlight caused solar-powered Opportunity to go into
hibernation,” Andrew Good, a representative for NASA’s Jet
Propulsion Laboratory, wrote in a press release.

But Opportunity hasn’t woken up and phoned home since it went to
sleep on June 10, leaving mission controllers to wonder if it
ever will.

What a new satellite image of Opportunity shows

nasa mars opportunity rover hill nasa jpl caltech hirise university arizona PIA22549 labeled
satellite image of NASA’s Opportunity rover on Mars after a
global dust storm finally cleared.

NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona; Business

Opportunity was descending into a location called Perseverance
Valley when the storm hit.

With dust levels plummeting in the past couple of weeks, NASA was
able to clearly photograph the location on September 20 using its
Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

That satellite image, shown above, was
taken by an instrument called HiRISE. In the picture, there is an
unmistakable though almost indiscernible ruddy bright spot on the
slopes of a hill: the Opportunity rover.

A before-and-after image created by NASA’s Jet Propulsion
Laboratory at Caltech more clearly shows where the rover stopped,
but also how the environment has changed as a result of the

“A key unknown is how much dust has fallen on the solar arrays,”
Good said. “The HiRISE image shows some reddening of the
surrounding area, suggesting dust fallout, but it is not possible
to determine how much dust is on the arrays themselves.”

The image comparison contains some
good news, though: There does not appear to be an “optically
thick layer of dust” that has coated this spot, Good writes. This
may mean there’s enough sunlight reaching Opportunity’s solar
panels to slowly charge its batteries.

However, no one can be sure how much dust is coating
Opportunity’s solar panels, or when a
dust devil
(a common weather phenomenon on Mars) might blow
over the robot and sweep them off.

What Opportunity’s possible final resting place looks like

nasa mars opportunity rover hill sean doran flickr ccbyncnd2 42743688912_4383e8454a_o labeled
3D illustration showing NASA’s Opportunity rover in Perseverance
Valley on Mars.

Seán Doran/Flickr (CC
BY-NC-ND 2.0); Business Insider

NASA’s overhead images of Opportunity are revealing, but it’s
difficult to get a sense of what the location actually looks

Bu Seán Doran, a graphic artist who lives in the
UK, has made a hobby of taking NASA’s satellite imagery, maps,
and other data and rendering them into realistic,
from-the-surface views of spacecraft on Mars. (Doran is also
known for his visualizations of Earth using satellite data
Juno spacecraft

Just a few days after Opportunity went to sleep, Doran modeled
Perseverance Valley and the robot to show its exact location on
Mars. The illustration above, which Doran tweeted on Wednesday, renders
the scene in color and 3D using HiRISE images and elevation data.

Doran also created black-and-white views of Opportunity, one of
which is shown below. It provides a look at Opportunity over the
ridge of the valley (shown as a small white shape at center).

nasa mars opportunity rover hill sean doran flickr ccbyncnd2 42059015864_fa7b929ddd_o
Doran/FLickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The artistic depictions give a sense of scale and desolation
relative to Opportunity, and also a glimpse at where the rover
may rest forever.

In mid-September, as the dust storm thinned and sunlight returned
to battery-charging strength, NASA began a 45-day countdown to
recover Opportunity.

“If we do not hear back after 45 days, the team will be forced to
conclude that the sun-blocking dust and the Martian cold have
conspired to cause some type of fault from which the rover will
more than likely not recover,” John Callas, the rover’s project
manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a press release on August 30.

The deadline falls at the end of October and, if not met, would
mark the end of an “active” campaign to listen for and try to
contact Opportunity on a daily basis. But Callas noted the agency
will still try “several months” of “passive listening” to see if
the robot somehow wakes up after the deadline.

Still, the rover is more than 15 years past its warranty, and the
dust storm led to one of the longest periods a solar-powered
robot has ever hibernated on Mars. This could easily create a
situation where some of the robot’s battery or other systems
suffered damage due to Martian cold and low power levels.

“Even if engineers hear back from Opportunity, there’s a real
possibility the rover won’t be the same,” NASA said in a press release in August. “No one
will know how the rover is doing until it speaks.”

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