Opportunity Rover Gets Power Boost from Wind Events on Mars

by Nancy Atkinson on March 28, 2014

A nearly dust-free solar panel for the Opportunity rover following a dust cleaning wind event sometime during the last week of March 2014 (on Earth).  Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell Univ./Arizona State University.

A nearly dust-free solar panel for the Opportunity rover following a dust cleaning wind event sometime during the last week of March 2014 (on Earth). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell Univ./Arizona State University.

The Opportunity rover on Mars has gotten a 70% boost in power over the past few weeks. A good portion of that comes from the fact that its springtime in Mars’ southern hemisphere where Oppy now sits along the western rim of Endeavour Crater and so the Sun is now shining longer and higher in the sky. But also, several recent gusts of wind – or perhaps small dust devils – have cleaned much of the dust off the rover’s solar panels.

The rover team reported that between Sols 3605 and 3606 (March 15 and March 16, 2014), there was a dust cleaning event that resulted in about a 10% improvement in power production to 574 watt-hours, and then another cleaning event this week has put the power output to 615 watt-hours.

See a self-portrait that Opportunity took of its solar panels back in January to compare with the image above of how much cleaner the solar panels are now.

To celebrate 10 years of the Opportunity rover on Mars, the rover team used the panoramic camera (Pancam) to take images of the rover itself during the interval Jan. 3, 2014, to Jan. 6, 2014. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell Univ./Arizona State Univ.

To celebrate 10 years of the Opportunity rover on Mars, the rover team used the panoramic camera (Pancam) to take images of the rover itself during the interval Jan. 3, 2014, to Jan. 6, 2014. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell Univ./Arizona State Univ.

Of course, this is not the first time a wind cleaning event has dusted off the solar panels — in fact it has happened several times (see here, here, and here) which is one of the reasons for the longevity of the solar-powered rovers.

I love these self-images the rovers can take, and below is a great recent image the rover took of its own shadow, in the late-afternoon Sun. The image was taken by the rover’s rear hazard avoidance camera.

Late afternoon lighting produced a dramatic shadow of NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity photographed by the rover's rear hazard-avoidance camera on March 20, 2014. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell Univ./Arizona State Univ.

Late afternoon lighting produced a dramatic shadow of NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity photographed by the rover’s rear hazard-avoidance camera on March 20, 2014. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell Univ./Arizona State Univ.

The image was taken looking eastward shortly before sunset on Sol 3,609 (March 20, 2014). The rover’s shadow falls across a slope called the McClure-Beverlin Escarpment on the western rim of Endeavour Crater, where Opportunity is investigating rock layers for evidence about ancient environments. The scene includes a glimpse into the distance across the 14-mile-wide (22-kilometer-wide) crater.

Source: JPL

About 

Nancy Atkinson is Universe Today's Senior Editor. She also works with Astronomy Cast, and is a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

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