Dust Storm Threatens the Martian Rovers

That Martian dust storm I reported on a week ago has intensified, engulfing most of the planet. The Martian rovers currently crawling around the surface of the Red Planet will learn first hand what impact these kinds of storms can have on their operations.

The dust is now blocking 99% of the direct sunlight falling on Opportunity’s solar panels. And here’s the problem. With limited electricity for an extended period of time, the roves won’t be able to generate enough electricity to keep their heaters going. These heaters keep their core electronics from becoming too cold in the frigid Martian landscape.

Before the dust storm, Opportunity was generating about 700 watt hours of electricity per day. With this dust, the power output has been reduced to 400 watt hours. Mission operators have been forced to cut back the rovers’ operations, including driving, use of its robotic arm, and cameras and other scientific instruments. On Wednesday, July 18, the power output dropped to just 128 watt hours.

If the storm is too intense or long-lasting, one or both rovers could be damaged permanently or even disabled. And storms like this can last days, weeks, or even longer.

Hang in there little rovers.

Original Source: NASA/JPL News Release