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Rover Field Reports from Mars

Status Reports for MER Opportunity Rover at Endeavour Crater, Meridiani Planum

 

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L. Crumpler, MER Science Team & New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science

The Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity is still exploring Mars. Below is a brief field report summary of its latest activity.

 


Latest Report


Publish Date: 
Thursday, June 14, 2018 - 10:00am

Sol 5114 - A Major Dust Storm on Mars

Opportunity was continuing to gather data from outcrops in Perseverance Valley up until the end of May and the first week of June. But then a dust storm developed to the northwest and unexpectedly expanded into Merdiani Planum where Opportunity is exploring.

In one sol (Mars day) the power output of the solar panels dropped from nearly 700 W-hrs to 123 W-hrs. By the next day the power had dropped to 22 W-hrs. The optical opacity factor of the atmosphere, which is normally described by numbers like 0.3-0.5, sky rocketed to outrageous numbers. During the previous dust storm back in 2007, the opacity was about 5. The last report on Sunday indicated a factor of 10.8! A new Martian record.

This sequence of images from an Earth telescope shows the sequence of development of the storm on June 7.

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) does daily ("solly"?) weather images of Mars. This shows the entire surface of Mars in cylindrical projection with Opportunity in the centter near 2 degrees south/ 354 degrees east.

Opportunity regularly looks at the Sun through a filter to determine the amount of dust in the sky. I think this pretty well shows that there is a lot of dust in the sky since June 8.

Here is a solar array power output plot that I put together on a daily basis, this one right after the last downlink on sol 5109. Right now the power output is the lowest that we have ever seen on Opportunity. Before last week the array output was close to 700 W-hrs or almsot as good as the day it landed  almost 15 years ago. In the last downlink the power was the lowest ever recorded.

Here is what MRO/HiRISE is seeing. And even the Curiosity site is finally being affected as shown on the right.

This graphically depicts how bad the dust storm is. It's dark at Opportunity right now. This series is actually a simulation using real solar images taken by Opportunity, but scaled in brightness according to actual values of opacity that were measured.

We like to keep the power up to 100 W-hrs even in the worst of winter times as a “margin” just to make certain that internal heaters can be called on if a night is particularly cold. But 22 W-hrs will not even operate basic activities, like communication with the orbital relay satellites. Following a last communication on Sunday, we have not received messages from Opportunity.  To conserve what energy it has Opportunity therefore is programmed to disconnect the batteries and go into a deep “sleep”, only running a mission clock to keep track of time. During the sleep it wakes periodically to see if there is any solar power input yet. If not it returns to sleep. In the winter this would be bad, because heaters are necessary to avoid freezing the electronics at temperature below a design limit. Fortunately, the dust storm is occurring during the beginning of Martian summer and the storm itself is acting like a blanket on the atmosphere keeping thing from getting really cold. The heaters are not expected to be needed.

So as of June 13 we expect Opportunity is hibernating (lower power fault) and will wake up after the storm passes. When it has enough power to communicate it will try to communicate during certain times of day.  Beginning June 13, the mission began to open emergency communication windows at the specified times just in case the storm passes and Opportunity tries to communicate. We do not know how long it will take for the solar energy to be sufficient because we do not know how dusty the solar panels have gotten.


 


Archived Reports


There was a stand-down of activities on Opportunity for a week or so as we emptied the flash memory and reformatted it following discovery of some “bad” flash memory blocks. Like re-formatting the memory card in you camera when it becomes troublesome, Opportunity simply wiped its data storage memory and reformatted it. This was completed about sol 3773 and currently it appears to have worked. Opportunity has re-commenced the long climb up this high and steep segment of the Endeavour crater rim.

• This sol is the Spring Equinox for the southern hemisphere on Mars

• Opportunity is now commencing ascent of a steep crater rim segment

• Opportunity has arrived at the base of an unusual outcrop

• Approximate 200 sol journey along “mountain ridge crest” ahead

• Opportunity now holds the distance record
• About to begin climb up the highest crater rim segment
• Brief stop this sol to look at contact with plains

Opportunity drove 48 meters on Sunday, July 27, exceeding the 21 meters necessary for it to have driven exactly 25 miles. ASt the concludion of the drive Opportunity had driven farther o=n the surface of another planet than any rover in history. This means that we have driven 25 miles actoss Mars and seen things that no one would ever have imagined that we would see.

• Opportunity has left the winter haven and is still driving south along the rim of Endeavour crater

• Currently exploring an outcrop a few meters from crater rim

• Power remains excellent but there is much driving ahead

• Opportunity  continues driving south along the rim of Endeavour crater

• Now approaching next area of outcrop

• Solar panels remain very clean, cleanest since about sol 1600

• Approaching distance driving record

Opportunity is closing in on the next important outcrop area here on the rim of Endeavour  crater. The outcrops just a hundred meters ahead have been identified from orbital remote sensing as having a strong Aluminum hydroxide feature. So these are probably going to be interesting outcrops one way or another.

• Opportunity is several weeks past winter solstice

• solar panels are the cleanest since 2006

• we are driving south along the rim

• near the crest of Murray Ridge

 

Due to a nearly continual wind or breeze at the winter location on Murray Ridge here at Endeavour crater, the solar panels are cleaner than they have been in years. The dust factor is in the high .8s (dust free = 1.0, half dust covered = 0.5). After most recent winters the dust factor has been around 0.45 - 0.50.

• The NM Museum of Natural History MER 10th Anniversary Exhibit opened here on January 24

• Opportunity is still at its "winter haven" on the crest of Murray Ridge

• Opportunity finally finished its study of the "jelly donut" rock Pinnacle Island

• Opportunity is looking now at some odd, possibly mineralized rocks

 

New Exhibit on the 10th Anniversary of MER Here at the NM Museum of Natural Hitory & Science 

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