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  • (01. January 2010., 10:27:49)

Author Topic: Mars Rovers Could Soon R.I.P. Because of the Continuous Dust Storm  (Read 3152 times)

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The dust storm on Mars has been going on for nearly a month and is now blocking around 85 to 90 percent of all sunlight to the surface. If it doesn't calm down in more than two weeks, the two NASA rovers on the surface, Spirit and Opportunity, will run out of power and will go permanently offline.

Scientists don't know exactly how large the storm will get, or when it will stop, only that it's thousands of miles in diameter and that it has grown in size, enough to become the biggest threat the two missions on the surface have ever encountered.

"We're rooting for our rovers to survive these storms, but they  were never designed for conditions this intense," said Alan Stern,
associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate.

This one has reduced the amount of light the rovers' solar panels receive by more than two thirds, which means that of the 900 watt-hours of power per day at the beginning of their mission, Spirit is now operating at around 400 watt-hours of daily power and Opportunity at only around 300 watt-hours.

Because of that, most operations were suspended, including use of the robotic arm, cameras and other site inspection instruments. This week, on Wednesday, the output from Opportunity's solar panels dropped to 128 watt-hours, the lowest point for either rover.

"To give you a sense of the 'thickness' of the dust, the brightness of the sun as viewed from the surface is now down to less than 5 percent of what it would be with a perfectly transparent atmosphere," said Steve Squyres of Cornell University, who is the lead scientist of the Mars Exploration Rover project. "Of course, Mars never has a perfectly transparent atmosphere, but the sun is still very faint."

If the storm continues at this intensity for more than two weeks, the two rovers will expend too much of their energy reserve, so they will likely be unable to warm their electronics and prevent circuit-snapping temperatures.

Right now, Opportunity is using more energy than its solar panels could generate, so "The only thing left to cut were some of the communication sessions," said John Callas, project manager for the twin rovers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

So, the future of the rovers is not bright at all, as they may soon be facing a dark fate on the red planet. If they completely shut down and are beyond repair, they will join Mars Pathfinder, declared missing in action, as its final location and state are unknown, after NASA lost communication, in 1998.

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