The dust is settling on the Red Planet. Is the remaining Mars Exploration Rover about to rise and shine after three months of slumber? MER Project Manager John Callas returns with a realistic yet hopeful assessment. He also tells us what Opportunity will be asked to do after we hear from her. Planetary Society Senior Editor Emily Lakdawalla returns with a preview of China’s next two missions to the Moon, one of which will make the first-ever farside landing. How close is the nearest black hole? We’ll get the answer as Bruce and Mat explore the night sky in this week’s What’s Up.
NASA / JPL-Caltech / MSSS
Wake up Opportunity!
A small local storm in the northern hemisphere of Mars spotted May 30, 2018 grew into
a massive regional dust storm that merged with other storms in June and became what
is called a planet-encircling dust event (PEDE). Within a couple of weeks, the dust
kicked up high into the atmosphere blanketed the planet. In August, the storm’s “lifting
centers” died and the dust began settling out and back onto the surface. The MER team
is to begin an active listening campaign to re-establish communication with Opportunity
in September. The image above, taken by the Mars Color Imager camera onboard the
Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) and processed by Bruce Cantor at Malin Space
Science Systems (MSSS), shows the latest global view of Mars cloud of dust. The tiny
dot in upper third of planet represents Opportunity’s location.
NASA / JPL-Caltech / MSSS
The 2001 cloaking
Two images, taken about a month apart in 2001 by the Mars Orbiter Camera (MOC)
onboard the now decommissioned Mars Global Surveyor orbiter, show the dramatic
change in the planet's appearance when a planet-encircling dust event grew and
became globally distributed. This was the first planet-encircling dust event that NASA’s
Mars Exploration Program witnessed in 20 years of constant observation. Another one
followed in 2007 during, which Opportunity survived. This recent PEDE is bigger and
‘sat’ at Endeavour and churning up dust for days. If however “things track the way they
did in that storm,” said Rich Zurek of the Mars Program Office at JPL and MRO,
Opportunity could phone home sometime in September this year.
NASA / JPL-Caltech / Cornell / ASU / S. Atkinson
Here comes the Sun
The Sun came out again at Endeavour Crater in August as the dust from the global
storm settled out. This artistic image was processed by author, astronomy outreach
educator, Stuart Atkinson, who has also followed this rover’s journey for years. See
his The Road to Endeavour.