An active rover on Mars? We immediately think of Curiosity. However, there is also Opportunity which arrived on the red planet more than 8 and a half years before its congeners. And the US Space Agency is concerned about Opportunity.
The fault lies with a sandstorm considered to be one of the most intense ever observed on Mars which already extends over 35 million km ² (almost a quarter of the surface of Mars) and touches Perseverance Valley where is currently located Opportunity.
If Curiosity is nuclear, Opportunity operates on solar energy. The storm clogs the Martian sky and thus affects the rover's solar panels, in addition to the dust.
Last week, the energy levels of the American rover dropped significantly, requiring to switch to a low consumption mode. All the subsystems are switched off with the exception of the mission clock for waking up the on-board computer and checking the battery recharge.
NASA explains that if the storm lasts too long, there is a risk that Opportunity " becomes too cold while waiting for the sky to clear. "It will then be impossible to wake up. The rover can only remain in its sleep state if the temperature does not drop below -55 ° C.
Fortunately, the temperature is not expected to drop below -36 ° C. As National Geographic reports, there is some optimism for the survival of Opportunity.
" As long as the rover remains alive electrically during the storm, it will not be easy, but I am optimistic that the team will recover the rover and pick up where it left off "said Mike Seibert of Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
If Opportunity's battery watches are holding the shock, re-establishing contact could then take weeks or even months.