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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


Rover Memory Hiccup. We need to re-do the plan from several days ago.

Flash memory or computer problems oddly occurred on both Curiosity and Opportunity around feb 27. One possibiliy is that a large solar flare resulted in radiation at Mars sufficient to temporarily corrupt the memory on both rovers. Mars is currently a few weeks away from solar conjunction, so big flare could have happened on the other side of the Sun. 

Clean-up activities in preparation for driving south.

We sent Opportunity a few meters uphill looking for the contact and are trying to get a quick composition and microscopic image on the outcrop. It looks like the Shoemaker Formation (impact breccia). If the rock has round spherules, it would be unlike the breccias we saw elsewhere along the ridge crest.

Here is latest map that I prpepared after the sol 3219 drive. The base image for this map is a mosaic of the local Navcam panoramas reprojected in vertical presepctive.

We have been seeing lots of small light-colored veins crossing through the outcrops here on Matijevic Hill, and we have tried to get a handle on the composition of these veins  by doing multiple offsets with the APXS. It appears that the small veins are calcium sulfate, as best we can determine. In other words, they are probably gypsum like the large veins that we saw around the margins of Cape York. Here are exmples of some of theseback in the Ortiz outcrop. They are tiny, measuring at a millimeter or two in width. But they are everywhere.

This weekend we will move to another outcrop to the north and ry to get a handle on the strange newberries. And maybe take a look at the alteration zones that have caused the boxwork type structures common to these outcrops.

While we wait to get there, take a look at the chart below. If all goes well, Opportunity will break the interplanetary rover distance record by next August.

We completed the bump and may have the target in the work volume....we think.

Another New Mexico name gets used for a Mars outcrop target.

The drive to the current target went well. But Opportunity will need to do some “adjustment” bumps in order to put the target in the work volume of the IDD. Because the IDD has a bad shoulder joint, Opportunity can only operate the arm in a single plane, more or less. So the part of any outcrop target that we would like to examine has to be pretty much in that plane and reachable. So careful positioning is necessary with particularly small targets like the one we are attempting to analyze.

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