Check it out: Mars rover snaps super clean selfie

April 19, 2014 by  
Filed under Wind Energy Tips

Earlier this year, the Mars Rover Opportunity took a selfie with the use of its panoramic camera. It was rather unflattering, showing it covered in the red Martian dust of iron and sulfur, which is bad news for folks at NASA who need its solar panels to be fully operational. They estimate that the rover was only running with 60 percent of the power on its lithium ion batteries, which it charged this winter. After spending some time in higher altitude, Opportunity’s latest selfie shows reveals that the rover is almost sparkling clean.

According to NASA, the Opportunity has cleaner solar panels this winter than its ever had since its first winter spent on Mars back in 2005.  Wind events on Mars last month may have had other effects besides cleaning the intrepid little explorer, like boosting the amount of energy it needs in order to operate. Now it is producing 70 percent more power than it had even as recently as two months ago, producing over 615 watt hours of power, far above the minimum 100 watts it needs in order to function properly. This power boosts means it can safely continue its exploration of the red planet.

When Opportunity was first launched with its twin Spirit, NASA assumed that their expedition would last a mere 90 days, a fate shared by the Mars rover Sojourner which launched back in the summer of 1997, whose solar panels were covered in dust before it lost its function. Learning from this debacle, however, NASA engineers built the robot with higher solar panels, and instead of covering them in sand, the Martian winds have helped to keep the panels clean, which accounts for the explorer’s long life.

As the Martian days are now lengthening in Opportunity’s current location, scientists are sending the rover towards Cape Tribulation, where it will study rock formations, a key factor to determining if Mars ever had supplies of running water moving along its canyons. The trip should take Opportunity about two years on foot.

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