Rovers Hit the Road Again

After being threatened by darkening dust storms, NASA’s Mars Exploration Rovers are ready to hit the road again. Both Spirit and Opportunity still face dusty skies, but they’re getting enough light through to their solar panels that they’re able to spare some battery power to start driving.

On August 21st, Opportunity moved ahead 13.38 metres (44 feet) towards the edge of Victoria Crater. This is the large impact crater that the rover has been studying for the last few months. Its next big job will be to work its way down a ramp into the crater, observing the layered rock as it descends. The crater serves as a time machine, allowing Opportunity to measure rock that was deposited during periods when the planet was much younger. The hope, of course, is for Opportunity to discover periods when the region was acted upon by water for long spans of time.

Opportunity’s total power supply reached 300 watt-hours on August 23, which is twice what it received 5 weeks ago. It’s enough to move and communicate, but mission controllers want it to get back into the 600+ watt-hour range that it had several months ago. If it wanted to, Opportunity could run a 100 watt light bulb for 3 hours.

The rover has been driven towards the rim of Victoria crater to put it at a favourable angle, pointing its solar panels towards the Sun. That way if further dust accumulates on its solar panels, it’ll still be able to generate enough power. But gusts of wind have actually been clearing off the panels, giving it more and more power each day.

To see what the rovers faced during the dust storms, check out this link to a Cornell University article. It has animations of the Sun each day, so you can see there was a long span in July when Opportunity couldn’t see the Sun at all.

Original Source: NASA/JPL News Release