Due to a massive dust storm that engulfed the planet Mars earlier this year, the Opportunity rover was put to sleep. Since the spacecraft was dependent on solar energy, scientists did not know for how long it will be able to survive. Now it seems that the skies on the red planet have finally cleared and we can take a look from the orbit to see what the condition of the rover is.
The Opportunity rover spotted by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter
Last week, the Mars Reconnaissance orbiter was passing over the Perseverance Valley, the place where the rover is stationary at the moment, thus allowing it to capture a picture of Opportunity. The aggressive storm that lasted on Mars for several months is not the first one that the spacecraft experienced, however, it was probably the worst. The last time when we had some response from the vehicle was as far back as 10th of June. That’s when the rover stopped being able to charge its batteries, due to the lack of sunlight, forcing it to enter a hibernation mode. Because of this, Opportunity was using only its heaters powered by plutonium, at least as long as they were working.
What’s the current situation
The rover is supposed to check daily if its batteries have any power from the solar energy. Jim Watzin, the director of the Mars Exploration Program at NASA, said in a statement that the rover is expected to have enough power to send a signal to Earth in the following weeks, now that the sunlight is finally back. When this will happen is not known yet. This is the happy scenarios, of course. There is also a possibility that Opportunity will not wake up, in case the dust damaged the solar cells or if there was any power fault throughout the storm. In the meantime, the team is sending signals to the spacecraft in order to encourage a response from it. We’ll just have to wait to see what happens next.