Winter is slowly ending in the southern hemisphere on Mars but that hasn’t stopped the Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity from getting an early jump on spring cleaning. NASA released a selfie sent back from the Red Planet’s most traveled visitor late last month which shows the Opportunity is cleaner than it’s been since landing on Mars just over ten years ago.
OK, technically Opportunity had nothing to do with the cleaning other than maneuvering itself into a good spot to take advantage of the strong Martian winds blowing over the rim of the Endeavor crater where it’s been wintering at the base of Solander Point since August 2013. A previous selfie taken in January with its Panoramic Camera (Pancam) showed a heavy buildup of dust on the rover, especially on the critical solar panels.
On March 15 and 16, 2014, there was a wind which cleaned some of the dust off of the panels, giving them a 10% improvement in power to 574 watt-hours. Another strong wind a week later blew off the rest of the dust, upping power to 620 watt-hours for an over-80% total increase. The before-and-after selfies (above) show the dramatic difference in the amount of dust on the panels.
This is not the first time Opportunity has been through the rover wash. Other wind-powered cleaning events occurred in 2008, 2009 and 2012.
After 10 years and six Martian winters, Opportunity is back on the prowl. It will be using its renewed power to explore “Murray Ridge,” on the western rim of Endeavour Crater, to learn about wet environments on ancient Mars. Murray Ridge is named in honor of Bruce Murray (1931-2013), a member of the science teams for NASA’s earliest missions to Mars and who later served as director of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.
I’m sure Dr. Murray would appreciate Opportunity getting cleaned up for the visit.