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NASA’s Alternative Rover Silenced by Mud Storm on Mars


A Martian mud storm overlaying 1 / 4 of the planet threatens a 15-year exploration mission by NASA’s Mars Opportunity rover.

Operators at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) tried to contact the rover on Tuesday however didn’t obtain a sign, which implies the craft has probably entered a “low energy fault mode” the place all methods, save a mission clock, are shut down. The storm was detected Might 30 and now totally blocks the solar on the rover’s location, leaving the craft in whole darkness. With out daylight, the rover can’t recharge the batteries it wants for operations.

“The mission staff could be very involved,” mentioned John Callas, mission supervisor for NASA’s Mars Exploration Rovers mission at JPL. NASA ceased Alternative’s science operations on June four as engineers ready to safe the craft in opposition to the storm, Callas mentioned.

“At this level we’re in a ready mode, listening day by day for attainable alerts day by day from the rover,” he mentioned. “We’re involved however we’re hopeful that the storm will clear and the rover will start to speak to us.”

The clock periodically wakes the rover laptop to verify energy ranges. If the batteries are insufficiently charged, the pc will once more enter a sleep mode, the identical mode used every evening to energy down the rover. Alternative can sit within the low-power mode “for an prolonged time frame,” Callas mentioned.

The speedy risk is that the rover, with out energy, might succumb to Mars’ harsh in a single day chilly. The final temperature studying from Alternative was -20F (-29C), NASA mentioned Sunday. Engineers hope the storm will present some atmospheric shielding in opposition to the planet’s dramatic every day temperature swings, Callas mentioned. The rover can face up to temperatures of -67F (-55C) and NASA expects the bottom temperature presently of the 12 months to achieve -33F (-36C) at Alternative’s location.

Alternative and its twin rover, Spirit, landed in January 2004. Each had been scheduled to finish 90-day geology missions however had been in a position to function for years past that. Spirit despatched information till March 2010 when it grew to become lodged in sand and NASA was unable to extricate it. Apart from Alternative, the company additionally operates the bigger Curiosity rover, which touched down in August 2012. Final month, NASA launched Mars InSight, a probe to review the planet’s inside geology, with touchdown scheduled in late November.

Mars experiences regional mud storms yearly, however solely often do they broaden to engulf your complete planet. The final such main storm occurred in 2007, which despatched NASA’s rovers right into a “hunker down” mode for a number of weeks earlier than the skies cleared.

The storms, which start throughout the southern hemisphere’s summer season, are fueled by daylight warming the surface-level air. That leaves the air within the higher ambiance cooler than beneath and an unstable combine emerges; as the hotter air rises, it carries mud into the skies. Such storms final for weeks, or generally months, however cease when the air temperatures equalise.

The storms’ cyclical nature, nevertheless, are poorly understood. One of many principal targets of NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, certainly one of three US satellites tasked with analysing the planet, is to reinforce our understanding of Martian meteorology.

“Not all Mars watchers are thrilled with the thought of a worldwide mud storm, which may adversely have an effect on ongoing missions,” NASA famous in a January information launch for the Reconnaissance Orbiter, which additionally described the exact loss-of-power situation Alternative now confronts.

As soon as the storm clears, and if NASA engineers can re-establish contact with Alternative, they could discover one other vexing drawback: “We might have a number of mud on this automobile that we have now to take care of,” Callas mentioned.

© The Washington Put up 2018

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