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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


During the last week of Febraury, 2018, on Sol 4999 since landing on Mars (14 tears ago), Opportunity woke up at took a picture of the sunrise over the southeast rim of Endeavour crater. Opportunity then proceeded with its science activities here on the inner wall of Endeavour crater.

Sol 4978 - January 25, 2018 Opportunity at Outcrop SIte "Robledo"

 

 

Opportunity is continuing its drive down Persevereance Valley, a channel that was cut in the inner wall of the 22 km-diameter Endeavour impact crater in ancient Mars (Noachian) time. This is the second stop of a series of stops as Opportunity drives down the valley. The goal is to collect field data that will help assess the origin of the valley. While the valley looks like a water-cut valley, we cannot be sure whether other processes like wind or drive flow have cut the valley. But that is why we are taking our time and collecting data as we drive.

With the latest drive on sol 4782, Opportunity  began the long drive down the floor of Perseverance Valley here on Endeavour crater. THis is rather historic in that it represents the first time that a rover has driven down an apparent wtaer-cut valley on Mars. Over the next few months OPportunity will explore the floor and sides of the valley for evidence of the scale and timing of the fluvial activity, if that is what is represents.

Opportunity is doing a geologic walkabout at the entrance to Perseverance Valley. There is an odd trough-like feature leading into the entrance of the valley and the natural suspicion is that it could be the water course that supplied the valley. We would like to get a look at the geologyto see if that is what formed the trough. Also, once Opportunity starts descending the valley, it will not be driving back up slope. We fully intend to exit out the bottom of the valley inside Endeavour crater.

Sol 4734 – Sitting at the Head of Perseverance Valley

Opportunity has arrived at the head of Perseverance Valley, a possible water-cut valley here at a low spot along the rim of the 22-km diameter Endeavour impact crater. Investigations in the coming weeks will “endeavor”  to determine whether this valley was eroded by water or some other dry process like debris flows. It certainly looks like a water cut valley. But looks aren’t good enough. We need additional evidence to test that idea.

Sol 4718 Approaching the Head of Perseverance Valley!

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