It has been nearly three months since the Opportunity rover in Mars went silent after a dust storm, but NASA is not giving up.
The space agency is optimistic that the 15-year-old golf-cart-size vehicle has survived the epic meteorological phenomenon that covered the red planet in a haze in June. In a post published on Aug. 16, the Jet Propulsion Lab said that the rover might have put itself under hibernation, which could explain why it has not made an attempt to phone home just yet.
Mars' Opportunity Rover Update
Right now, scientists cannot know for sure if the oldest rover in Mars is safe and can recover. They assured, however, that Opportunity was in relatively good health prior to the epic global dust storm.
"They've performed several studies on the state of its batteries before the storm and temperatures at its location," said the report by NASA. "Because the batteries were in relatively good health before the storm, there's not likely to be too much degradation."
Cold is also a problem on Mars where the temperature can easily drop to up to -73 degrees Celsius. However, the location where the rover was last seen has recently entered the summer season. With the dust storm possibly heating up the environment, the agency added that Opportunity might have been able to stay warm throughout the whole ordeal.
"This is the worst storm Opportunity has ever seen, and we're doing what we can, crossing our fingers, and hoping for the best," planetary scientist Steve Squyres stated in a post on the website of The Planetary Society.
Opportunity Needs Sunlight To Recover
NASA explained that Opportunity would need sunlight in order to recharge its batteries and send a signal back to Earth. However, the dust storm has covered the red planet, blocking the sunlight from reaching the surface and, therefore, the rover's solar panels.
Scientists track the amount of dust in the atmosphere on Mars using "tau," a measurement for atmospheric opacity. The higher the tau, the less sunlight gets through to the surface below.
On June 10, during the solar storm, the tau in the location of Opportunity shot up to 10.8 versus its average of 0.5. The rover would need 0.20 tau to be able to use its solar panel, charge its batteries, and report back to home.
With the dust in the Martian atmosphere starting to "decay" or fall back down from to the ground, scientists predict clearer skies in Earth's neighboring planet soon. The agency would continue to monitor for signals coming from the rover through the Deep Space Network, the telecommunications system used to connect planetary probes and engineers on Earth.
NASA warns that even if Opportunity survives the dust storm, it would take time for the probe to resume its exploration of the Red Planet. It might take several sessions over a long period of time to assess the health of the rover and attempt a full recovery.
Scientists also said that the rover might have sustained damages, specifically to its batteries, after being inactive for so long.