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.
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.
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.
Nancy Atkinson is currently Universe Today’s Contributing Editor. Previously she served as UT’s Senior Editor and lead writer, and has worked with Astronomy Cast and 365 Days of Astronomy. Nancy is the author of the new book “Incredible Stories from Space: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Missions Changing Our View of the Cosmos.” She is also a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.