MarsNews.com
June 13th, 2018

Enormous Dust Storm On Mars Threatens The Opportunity Rover

A series of images shows simulated views of a darkening Martian sky blotting out the Sun from NASA’s Opportunity rover’s point of view, with the right side simulating Opportunity’s current view in the global dust storm (June 2018).
NASA/JPL-Caltech/TAMU

A massive dust storm on Mars is threatening NASA’s Opportunity rover, which has been conducting research on the Red Planet for well over a decade.

Where the rover sits, the dust storm has completely blotted out the sun, depriving Opportunity of solar power and cutting off communications with Earth.

NASA scientists believe the rover has fallen asleep to wait out the storm, and that when the dust storm dies down and sunlight returns, the rover will resume activity.

“We’re concerned, but we’re hopeful that the storm will clear and the rover will begin to communicate with us,” says John Callas, the Opportunity project manager.

The rover has survived dust storms before, but it’s never lost power this thoroughly.

The dust storm on Mars grew from a small, local storm into a massive event over the course of the last two weeks. Opportunity is located near the middle of the storm, while the newer rover Curiosity — which is nuclear-powered, so not threatened by the loss of sunlight — is currently near the storm’s edge.

December 13th, 2017

NASA’s Opportunity Rover Withstands Another Harsh Winter On Mars

Artist’s impression of the Opportunity Rover, part of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program. NASA/JPL-Caltech

When the Opportunity rover landed on Mars on January 25th, 2004, its mission was only meant to last for about 90 Earth days. But the little rover that could has exceeded all expectations by remaining in operation (as of the writing of this article) for a total of 13 years and 231 days and traveled a total of about 50 km (28 mi). Basically, Opportunity has continued to remain mobile and gather scientific data 50 times longer than its designated lifespan.

And according to a recent announcement from NASA’s Mars Exploration Program (MEP), the rover managed to survive yet another winter on Mars. Having endured the its eight Martian winter in a row, and with its solar panels in encouragingly clean condition, the rover will be in good shape for the coming dust-storm season. It also means the rover will live to see its 14th anniversary, which will take place on January 25th, 2018.

At present, both the Opportunity and Spirit rover are in Mars’ southern hemisphere. Here, the Sun appears in the northern sky during the fall and winter, so the rovers need to tilt their solar-arrays northward. Back in 2004, the Spirit rover had lost the use of two of its wheels, and could therefore not maneuver out of a sand trap it had become stuck in. As such, it was unable to tilt itself northward and did not survive its fourth Martian winter (in 2009).

January 27th, 2016

NASA’s Opportunity shatters expectations with 12 years on Mars

The target beneath the tool turret at the end of the rover’s robotic arm in this image from NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity is “Private John Potts.”

When NASA scientists landed Opportunity on Mars on Jan. 24, 2004, they expected the rover to last for three months.

Opportunity has far outlived its life expectancy, still going strong twelve years later.

And keeping Opportunity alive and moving hasn’t been easy for NASA scientists. Opportunity’s batteries are powered by its own solar panels, an elusive energy source during dark and windy winters.

“Cleaning events have become a critical, yet unplanned component of long-duration solar powered missions on the Martian surface,” explains Discovery News. The rovers’ drivers on Earth optimize windstorms to clean the dusty panels. “Opportunity’s most recent cleaning event occurred toward the end of 2015, before it plunged into Martian winter, thus allowing the rover to continue its valuable work into 2016.”

October 16th, 2015

Comet’s Close Encounter with Mars Dumped Tons of Dust on Red Planet

Sebastian Voltmer in Germany used the iTelescope at Siding Spring Observatory, Coonabarabran, New South Wales, Australia to capture Comet C/2013 A1 passing very close to Mars on 19 October 2014. He used their Takahashi FSQ ED refractor and SBIG STL11000M camera for four 120-seconds exposures; RGB 120-seconds (Bin 2). Image credit: © Sebastian Voltmer.

 

Comet Siding Spring’s close shave by Mars last year provided a rare glimpse into how Oort Cloud comets behave, according to new research.

The comet flew by Mars at a range of just 83,900 miles (135,000 kilometers) — close enough for the outer ridges of its tenuous atmosphere to pummel the planet with gas and dust.

In just a short flyby, the comet dumped about 2,200 to 4,410 lbs. (1,000 to 2,000 kg) of dust made of magnesium, silicon, calcium and potassium — all of which are rock-forming elements — into the upper atmosphere, the new study found.

August 7th, 2015

3D-Printed Mars Meteorite

3D-printed-meteorite-chunk
Back in 2009, scientists detected an odd-shaped rock by the Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity’s panorama camera. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) team spotted the rock, now called Block Island, in the images downlinked to Earth after it had driven past the rock. The rover backtracked some 820 feet to study Block Island closer, eventually touching the rock with its robotic arm. The image showed a rock approximately 2 feet in length and half that in height, with a metallic bluish tint that distinguished it from other rocks in the area. Upon further analysis scientists discovered that Block Island was a meteorite comprised of iron and nickel. A portion of Block Island’s surface indicated exposure when a meteorite is abraded, polished, and etched by windblown sand.

June 3rd, 2015

Mars Missions to Pause Commanding in June, Due to Sun NASA

In June 2015, Mars will swing almost directly behind the sun from Earth’s perspective, and this celestial geometry will lead to diminished communications with spacecraft at Mars.

The arrangement of the sun between Earth and Mars is called Mars solar conjunction. It occurs about every 26 months as the two planets travel in their sun-centered orbits. The sun disrupts radio communications between the planets during the conjunction period. To prevent spacecraft at Mars from receiving garbled commands that could be misinterpreted or even harmful, the operators of Mars orbiters and rovers temporarily stop sending any commands.

April 9th, 2015

They’re Off and Running for NASA Rover Mars Marathon NASA

About 90 employees at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, are running 1.2 mile laps through the laboratory grounds today as part of a marathon-length relay to celebrate the first-ever Martian marathon.
NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity, which landed on Mars in 2004, surpassed a marathon length of Martian driving on March 24.

Opportunity’s original three-month prime mission in 2004 yielded evidence of environments with liquid water soaking the ground and flowing on planet’s surface. As the rover continued to operate far beyond expectations for its lifespan, scientists chose the rim of Endeavour Crater as a long-term destination. Since 2011, examinations of Endeavour’s rim have provided information about ancient wet conditions less acidic, and more favorable for microbial life, than the environment that left clues found earlier in the mission.

March 27th, 2015

NASA’s longest-running and most successful Mars rover may be brought to a halt by budget cuts Business Insider

It’s been a long time coming, but this week NASA’s Mars Opportunity rovercompleted the first-ever Martian marathon. After landing on the Red Planet in January 2004 on a mission originally planned to only last 90 days, Opportunity has instead endured for more than a decade, and has taken eleven years and two months to travel the marathon-standard 42.195 kilometers. On average, that’s only about ten meters per day—slower even than a snail’s pace.

“This is the first time any human enterprise has exceeded the distance of a marathon on the surface of another world,” says John Callas, Opportunity’s project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “A first time happens only once.”

March 10th, 2015

Mars Rover Opportunity Finds New Type Of Rock Clapway

Mars rover Opportunity is stopping to investigate some oddly shaped rocks that have a composition never seen on Mars before. The blocky outcrops were spotted when Opportunity climbed an overlook to survey “Marathon Valley”, the current location of the mission of exploration. Matt Golombeck of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) explained the detour: “We drove to the edge of a plateau to look down in the valley, and we found these big, dark-gray blocks along the ridgeline. We checked one and found its composition is different from any ever measured before on Mars. So, whoa! Let’s study these more before moving on.”
Spectrometer analysis indicates that the first of the two rocks has a relatively higher concentration of aluminum and silicon. According to Steve Squyres, Mars Exploration Rover (MER) principal investigator of Cornell University, it seems to be a new type of rock, unlike any other found so far on Mars.

February 3rd, 2015

With an eye on Mars, White House seeks to boost NASA funding The Christian Science Monitor

The White House budget proposal for NASA in 2016 calls for a $500 million boost over the 2015 enacted budget and would keep NASA on its path to Mars, NASA chief Charles Bolden says.
The $18.5 billion budget request, presented by Bolden today (Feb. 2), includes funding for developing a mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa, and the agency’s asteroid redirect mission (ARM). Officials think ARM could help pave the way for crewed missions to the Red Planet by the 2030s.
“NASA is firmly on a journey to Mars,” Bolden said. “Make no mistake, this journey will help guide and define our generation.”