NASA beefs up efforts to wake its silent Opportunity rover after 600 failed attempts since June, as brutal Martian winter approaches
- Rover hasn’t transmitted since June 10, when it went silent to ride out dust storm
- NASA now says it will try a new set of commands to explore three possible issues
- Time is running out for rover, as Martian winter threatens to bring extreme temps
It’s been seven months since NASA last made contact with the Opportunity rover – but, the team isn’t ready to give up hope just yet.
The rover celebrated a bittersweet 15th anniversary on Mars last week as it remains silent after a dust storm that blanketed the red planet back in June.
Engineers on the Opportunity team say they’re now trying out a new set of commands in attempt to wake up the robotic explorer over the next few weeks.
Opportunity landed on Jan. 24, 2004, and logged more than 28 miles (45 kilometers) before falling silent during a global dust storm June 2018. There was so much dust in the Martian atmosphere that sunlight could not reach Opportunity’s solar panels for power generation
The new commands are an effort to coax the rover back into operation and address the low-likelihood events that may have happened in the wake of the storm, preventing it from sending messages back to Earth, NASA says.
Opportunity hasn’t transmitted since June 10.
‘We have and will continue to use multiple techniques in our attempts to contact the rover,’ said John Callas, project manager for Opportunity at JPL.
‘These new command strategies are in addition to the “sweep and beep” commands we have been transmitting up to the rover since September.’
The latest transmission strategies will address three possible scenarios, according to NASA.
This includes the failure of Opportunity’s primary X-band radio, failure of both of its X-band radios, and problems with the rover’s internal clock.
Though faults of these kinds are unlikely, all previous efforts to rouse the rover have so far been unsuccessful.
‘Over the past seven months we have attempted to contact Opportunity over 600 times,’ Callas said.
‘While we have not heard back from the rover and the probability that we ever will is decreasing each day, we plan to continue to pursue every logical solution that could put us back in touch.’
HOW OFTEN DO DUST STORMS HAPPEN ON MARS AND WHAT’S THE BEST WAY TO SEE THEM?
Dust storms occur frequently on Mars, but global events that circle the entire planet appear every six to eight Earth years, which equates to three to four years on the red planet.
MailOnline spoke to Dr Robert Massey, deputy executive director of the Royal Astronomical Society, for his advice on witnessing this extra-terrestrial weather event.
He said: ‘Observing Mars is always challenging, as it’s small, about half the size of the Earth, and at its closest is still around 34 million miles (55 million km) away.
‘It is easily visible to the eye as a bright red object in the sky, but seeing any detail requires a reasonable telescope and binoculars won’t show much.
‘Even with that, details are fleeting, and depend on a steady terrestrial atmosphere as otherwise turbulence blurs out the view.
‘This is why early Martian observers spent a lot of time making many sketches to try to map the planet’s surface.
‘A good time to look is when Mars is near its opposition, the point when the planet is opposite the sun in the sky and near its minimum distance from the Earth.
‘Opposition in 2018 is on July 27, and Mars’ closest approach is on 30 July.
‘As it gets dark in the evening, you should look for a bright red object in the southeastern sky.
‘With a decent telescope, observers can see the polar caps growing and shrinking and the dust storms described above. These can rapidly change from being local features to planetwide events.’
The team is working against the clock to wake up Opportunity before the ‘dust-clearing season’ on Mars comes to an end.
Soon, the planet will experience winter in its southern hemisphere, bringing extremely low temperatures.
According to NASA, this ‘could cause irreparable harm to an unpowered rover’s batteries, internal wiring and/or computer systems.’