With the current dust storm encircling Mars, NASA’s Opportunity rover has been seriously hit with critically low battery levels. First spotted on 30th May, the intense storm covers almost a quarter of the planet and threatening to end the 14-year life of Opportunity by blocking light. These dust storms on the Red Planet has been a concern of threats for robotic, solar power rovers.
It is when the Sunlight hits Mars surface and heat it up, the air near to the surface also gets heated up, whereas, the air at the higher levels remains cooler in the atmosphere. As warm air rises carrying along dust and clashes the cooler air up, it creates storms. It is during the summers in Mars, when the Sun is at its peak, the most powerful of storms arise. Thanks to the tenuous atmosphere of Mars, which is just 1% as dense as Earth’s atmosphere, the speed of the wind of the most severe of the Martian storms hardly exceeds more than 60 miles an hour, as compared to the lowest intensity of a hurricane on Earth has sustained wind speeds at 74 miles an hour. It is not the speed of the wind that is a matter of concern for the rovers, but the most hazardous are the clouds of dust.
The dust on Mars is not similar as the common ones at our households, which comprises of dirt and pollen, whereas, these dust are made of very minute particles of oxidised irons, that are as small as 1000nd of an inch in its diameter. These dust on Mars being electrostatically charged in nature, accumulates and sticks on the surfaces of the rover’s solar panels. As the particles of the dust are very minute and light, they with no effort gets carried by the wind and fills the atmosphere, thus blocking sunlight to reach the panels. The primary cause of concern is that the smallest of the Martian storm can cover the panels and stick to it for weeks, critically hampering the rover’s capability to operate.
Presently more significant, as compared to North America, the storm plagiarising Opportunity shows no signs of subsiding. As compared the storm has even surpassed a similar storm in 2007, in its intensity on how much it can darken the atmosphere. Though contacts with the rover was established on Sunday, repeated attempts made yesterday failed, as revealed by NASA. Such situation means that the rover has reached uncommunicative low power mode. It is said that if Opportunity’s battery levels dip very low, the internal clock, that tells the rover when to get up and get in touch with Earth will also fail, putting it on robotic mode permanently.