NASA says it still hasn’t managed to communicate with Opportunity, the rover that fell silent after being caught in a global dust storm on Mars. Though the storm has passed and sunlight is once again present, Opportunity hasn’t managed to communicate with its team on Earth. NASA speculates dust on the solar panels may be the issue and says an upcoming windy season could be the solution.
Unlike the newer Curiosity rover, Opportunity rover is powered with solar energy. When the Mars dust storm grew in size, the dust blotted out the Sun, preventing Opportunity rover from charging properly. The machine soon went into a low-power hibernation mode to conserve the remaining battery charge.
A few weeks ago, NASA said the amount of sunlight present on Mars had increased substantially enough for Opportunity to recharge. The space agency gave it some time, then became attempting to communicate with it, soon increasing its number of attempts.
The rover hasn’t responded to any of those attempts in the many days since, however, and NASA has warned that something unforeseen could have permanently taken the rover out of commission. The space agency isn’t giving up on Opportunity yet, though, and in a statement today it explains that dust on the rover’s solar panels may be preventing it from charging.
If that’s the case, an upcoming windy period on Mars may be the solution. This “dust-clearing season,” as NASA calls it, takes place on the Red Planet from November to January, and may be breezy enough to blow the panels clean…assuming that’s the issue. NASA points out that even if this is the end, Opportunity far exceeded its expected lifespan.