Opportunity rover still silent on Mars, 4 months after epic dust storm began

By Mike Wall
October 12, 2018, 11:41:32 AM EDT

The Opportunity rover's silent stretch on Marshas now reached four months.

Opportunity hasn't made a peep since June 10. Around that time, a developing dust storm shrouded its environs in darkness, preventing the solar-powered rover from harvesting enough sunlight to recharge its batteries.

The Martian dust storm grew to envelop the entire planet 10 days later. But by late July the maelstrom was abating, and the sky continued to clear over the following weeks. By Sept. 11, conditions near Opportunity's locale — a valley on the rim of the 14-mile-wide (22 kilometers) Endeavour Crater — were good enough that the rover team ramped up its hailing efforts, kicking off a 45-day "active listening" campaign.


This June 2017 photo by NASA's Opportunity Mars rover shows the area just above Perseverance Valley, which lies on the rim of the 14-mile-wide (22 kilometers) Endeavour Crater. Opportunity has been silent since June 10, 2018, after a dust storm plunged this region into darkness.Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/Arizona State Univ.

That campaign is now two-thirds over, and there's still been nothing from the six-wheeled robot. If the clock runs out on Opportunity, NASA will reassess its recovery plans and efforts, agency officials have said. But engineers and technicians will continue listening for a ping from Opportunity in a more passive mode at least through January, mission managers have said.

The venerable rover may be dead, done in by a combination of the darkness and the bitter Martian cold. Without any power, after all, Opportunity cannot run its onboard heaters. But there is still hope, even at this relatively late date.

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