A global dust storm that enshrouded Mars -- halting operations for NASA's Opportunity rover -- continues to abate, raising scientists' hopes to hear back from the 15-year-old, solar-powered probe. Scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in the US believe that the rover will soon receive enough sunlight to automatically initiate recovery procedures, if it is not damaged. To prepare, the Opportunity mission team has developed a two-step plan to provide the highest probability of successfully communicating with the rover and bringing it back online.
Martian dust storm clearing over Opportunity rover: NASA
"The Sun is breaking through the haze over Perseverance Valley, and soon there will be enough sunlight present that Opportunity should be able to recharge its batteries," said John Callas, Opportunity project manager at JPL. When the tau level -- a measure of the amount of particulate matter in the Martian sky -- dips below 1.5, researchers will attempt to communicate with the rover by sending it commands via the antennas of NASA's Deep Space Network.
"MARCI images of the Opportunity site have shown no active dust storms for some time within 3,000 kilometers of the rover site," said Zurek. With skies clearing, mission managers are hopeful the rover will attempt to call home, but they are also prepared for an extended period of silence. "If we do not hear back after 45 days, the team will be forced to conclude that the Sun-blocking dust and the Martian cold have conspired to cause some type of fault from which the rover will more than likely not recover," said Callas. At that point, the team will report to NASA HQ to determine whether to continue with the strategy or adjust it.