UPDATE NOVEMBER 1, 2018: NASA said this week that, although it has passed the initially planned 45-day signaling period for the Mars rover Opportunity, which has been silent since a major dust storm swept over the rover’s location in June, it will continue signaling efforts. The update page for the rover announced on Monday:
After a review of the progress of the listening campaign, NASA will continue its current strategy for attempting to make contact with the Opportunity rover for the foreseeable future. Winds could increase in the next few months at Opportunity’s location on Mars, resulting in dust being blown off the rover’s solar panels. The agency will reassess the situation in the January 2019 time frame.
NASA had announced on August 30, 2018, that it was about to begin a 45-day effort to restore communication with the rover. It said recovery efforts would begin in earnest when atmospheric opacity (tau) over the rover site had fallen below an estimated measurement of 1.5, twice, with one week apart between measurements. On September 10, NASA said that the benchmark had been reached, and that skies were clearing over the rover. The Opportunity team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, had been sending a command to the rover three times a week, in hopes of eliciting a response. At that time, the team began increasing the frequency of commands to multiple times per day, for a planned 45 days. NASA said then:
Passive listening for Opportunity will also continue to be performed by JPL’s Radio Science Group, which records radio signals emanating from Mars with a very sensitive broadband receiver.
The 14-year-old rover has been silent on Mars’ surface since early June, when a dust storm on Mars went global and blotted out the sun over Opportunity’s location.
The rover is solar-powered and needs sunlight to operate.
If you want to follow the rover recovery efforts on Twitter, you can do so here: @MarsRovers.
With Mars' skies clearing, we'll be trying multiple times a day to command Opportunity via the Deep Space Network, and continue passive listening via broadband. More: https://t.co/YvoDCwT3Vw pic.twitter.com/6Cns83PYa7
— Spirit and Oppy (@MarsRovers) September 11, 2018
One-way light time between Earth and Mars is a little more than 4 minutes right now. https://t.co/A95SGKBd3m
— Spirit and Oppy (@MarsRovers) September 11, 2018
Tempers flared a bit over these months of silence for the rover. When NASA first announced it would give the rover 45 days to wake up, Mike Seibert, a former flight director and rover driver for Opportunity who is no longer at JPL, is one of several who said publicly that time period was too short. He commented that JPL attempted active listening for Spirit, the twin of Opportunity, for 10 months in 2010 and 2011 when that rover stopped transmitting before giving up.
You have to be kidding me. 45 days after a Tau of 1.5. This can't be based on any real analysis of the situation.
— Mike Seibert (@mikeseibert) August 30, 2018
Following Seibert’s tweet, and the reactions it caused, NASA took special care with its subsequent announcements about the recovery. The space agency revised part of its August 30 statement to including the following more fully described recovery process for Opportunity:
The science team is also sending a command three times a week to elicit a beep if the rover happens to be awake, and will soon be expanding the commanding to include ‘sweep and beeps’ to address a possible complexity with certain conditions within the mission clock fault. These will continue through January of 2019 …
Back during the attempted recovery of the Spirit rover, a technical issue required the team to actively command the rover to communicate. Opportunity has no such issue; if we hear from it, it will likely be from listening passively as we have been, and as we will continue to do through January.
As we wait to hear whether Oppotunity will revive and respond, there’s been an outpouring of warmth toward the little robot explorer, now sitting silent on Mars. If you want to join in, you could send a postcard. In the meantime, on Twitter today, many gushed their support for the rover, from afar:
— Cheryl Lawson (@WeAreMarsBook) September 12, 2018
— Dr Mary McMillan (@maryemcmillan) September 10, 2018
— Christopher Becke (@BeckePhysics) September 6, 2018
Bottom line: The 45-day period of signaling multiple times per day to the 14-year-old Opportunity rover on Mars has ended, but NASA said this week it will continue to try to signal the rover. The solar-powered rover has been silent since June, 2018, when a global dust storm blotted out the sun from its location. Good luck, Oppy!
Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and founded EarthSky.org in 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. "Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers," she says.