Sunday, July 08, 2007

Opportunity descent into Victoria delayed

Fears that a growing dust storm on Mars will deplete power to the Opportunity rover have caused mission planners to delay by a few days the descent into Victoria crater. Opportunity has been surveying the edge of the crater for months, looking for a safe place to begin the perilous descent, but with dust cutting nearly half the available power to the rover, (from 765 watt-hours to 402 watt-hours per day) the decision has been taken to keep the rover in sleep mode as much as possible, with a tentative date of July 13th pencilled in for a full resumption of the mission. The storm has been growing since June, and while mission scientists remain confident that it will abate and be no threat to Opportunity and Spirit, there is some concern that the storm may go global. Such storms are not uncommon, seeming to follow a rough pattern of occurring every 6 years. The last global storm was in 2001, so the planet is due one.