Tag Archives: dust storm

Mars dust storm blocks Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter images

In my normal routine to check out the periodic posting of new high resolution images from Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), the August 1 update brought what at first was a disturbing surprise. If you go to the link you will see that a large majority of the images show nothing by a series of vertical lines, as if the high resolution camera on MRO has failed.

Yet, scattered among the images were perfectly sharp images. I started to look at these images to try to figure out the differences, and quickly found that the sharp images were always of features in high latitudes, while the blurred images were closer to the equator.

The August 1 image release covered the June/July time period, when the on-going Martian dust storm was at its height. The images illustrate also where the storm was most opaque, closer to the equator.

The next few updates, which occur every three weeks or so, should show increasing clarity as the storm subsides. And the storm is subsiding, according to the latest Opportunity update. The scientists have still not re-established contact with the rover, and do not expect to for at least a month or more, but they are finding that the atmospheric opacity at Endeavour Crater seems to be dropping.

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Martian dust storm beginning to clear

The Martian global dust storm that started in mid-June and has left the rover Opportunity with little power appears to be finally clearing.

Don’t expect any word from Opportunity however for at least a month. The storm might be dying off, but it will take time for the dust to settle out of the atmosphere, especially in Mars’s light gravity.

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Martian dust storm goes global

Data from orbit and from Curiosity at Gale Crater confirms that the dust storm that has shut down Opportunity is now a global storm, encircling Mars.

The Martian dust storm has grown in size and is now officially a “planet-encircling” (or “global”) dust event.

Though Curiosity is on the other side of Mars from Opportunity, dust has steadily increased over it, more than doubling over the weekend. The sunlight-blocking haze, called “tau,” is now above 8.0 at Gale Crater — the highest tau the mission has ever recorded. Tau was last measured near 11 over Opportunity, thick enough that accurate measurements are no longer possible for Mars’ oldest active rover.

This will be first global storm to occur on Mars since Curiosity landed in 2012, thus giving scientists the best opportunity to study such an event.

Meanwhile, Opportunity remains silent. This does not mean it is dead, but that it doesn’t have enough sunlight to charge its batteries. It might die during this storm if the storm lasts long enough, but we won’t know one way or the other until the storm finally eases.

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Contact with Opportunity lost

The Opportunity science team has lost contact with Opportunity as it automatically shuts down operations to survive low battery power due to the dust storm.

This does not necessarily mean the rover is dead. Depending on how long this period of low power lasts, the rover could return to life once the dust storm passes. Or not. We can only wait and see.

A press conference today on the dust storm and Opportunity’s status begins at 1:30 Eastern time today.

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Growing Martian dust storm forces Opportunity to suspend operations

A growing Martian dust storm has forced the Opportunity science team to suspend science operations and to reconfigure the rover’s operations to increase its chances of surviving the storm.

In a matter of days, the storm had ballooned. It now spans more than 7 million square miles (18 million square kilometers) — an area greater than North America — and includes Opportunity’s current location at Perseverance Valley. More importantly, the swirling dust has raised the atmospheric opacity, or “tau,” in the valley in the past few days. This is comparable to an extremely smoggy day that blots out sunlight. The rover uses solar panels to provide power and to recharge its batteries.

Opportunity’s power levels had dropped significantly by Wednesday, June 6, requiring the rover to shift to minimal operations.

This isn’t Opportunity’s first time hunkering down in bad weather: in 2007, a much larger storm covered the planet. That led to two weeks of minimal operations, including several days with no contact from the rover to save power. The project’s management prepared for the possibility that Opportunity couldn’t balance low levels of power with its energy-intensive survival heaters, which protect its batteries from Mars’ extreme cold. It’s not unlike running a car in the winter so that the cold doesn’t sap its battery charge.There is a risk to the rover if the storm persists for too long and Opportunity gets too cold while waiting for the skies to clear.

In other words, there is a possibility that the rover might not make it through this period of low sunlight. Nonetheless, the rover did send four images down yesterday, though the four images are essentially dust filled, and are likely aimed at the far distance to help gauge the extent of the storm.

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