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Three Weeks of Silence for Opportunity Under the Martian Dust Storm

Things look bleak, both literally and figuratively, for Opportunity. Of course, they have been for quite some time, the planet-encircling dust storm obviously making the rover’s solar panels unable to generate enough power to keep it awake, but what I find increasingly concerning now is the lack of any additional updates specifically about it in quite some time. Even if the last communication was on June 10, so exactly three weeks ago, there was another update going up to June 19 and the news article was also updated on June 20, but then things went quiet. There are, of course, the Storm Watch 2018 and latest weather pages, but there aren’t many recent reports there either and definitely none that show any improvement for Opportunity’s location.
Simulations do predict that Opportunity’s systems should stay above the minimum temperature they’re designed for, but that rover has been there for almost 14 and a half years, and the batteries running completely dry, to the point that a mission clock fault is also considered possible, could have other consequences as well. Plus the damage the dust itself may cause, and the amount which will remain on the solar panels after the storm will end, whenever that will be, reducing the amount of power they’ll be able to generate even if the sky will clear.

As someone was commenting, “if this is the last we hear from Opportunity, remember that it took a storm of global proportions to finally take it out”. But I sure hope it won’t be, because that little rover deserves better. Just for using solar panels instead of the nuclear energy used by Curiosity, it should still function after Curiosity becomes unusable, to prove that, despite such problems that appear under special circumstances such as the current one, renewable energy is the way to go even on Mars, so even more so here on Earth. And also simply because it lasted so long already and is evidence of a job so well done, and of the fact that we actually can build things that last, even without maintenance and under punishing conditions. And… Well, also because, even if it’s just a machine, it can be said that quite a few people got to care for it over the years, and I’m among them.

Meant to write this last Sunday, after two weeks of silence, but I did manage to find something else to quickly post that evening and I wanted to wait a little longer if I could, since the last reports were still relatively recent at that time. But silence is a bad omen and the more time that passes, the greater the risk that the next report will indicate a failure, stating that conditions over Opportunity’s location should have improved enough to allow it to generate enough power to wake up and communicate, even if merely to send a beep at first, and yet there’s only silence. And… I guess I’m just writing this now to wish the little rover well, to say I hope that won’t be the case.


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