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Best NASA hope for waking Mars Opportunity rover may be soon

Winds of change on Mars could help the silent rover make contact.

Opportunity snapped this selfie in 2014 after winds cleaned dust off its solar panels.
NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell Univ./Arizona State Univ.

It's awfully quiet on Mars right now, but NASA isn't giving up on contacting the Opportunity rover, and it's hoping blustery conditions could come to the rescue.

The rover has been silent since June 10, when a global dust storm blotted out its solar panels and sent it into hibernation mode. The storm has since cleared, but Opportunity has yet to phone home. 

NASA ramped up its efforts to reach the rover in September, but a new update from Thursday tells us it hasn't been successful. 

NASA says it's possible a layer of dust is blocking the rover's solar panels and preventing it from recharging its batteries. One reason for optimism is that we're coming up on what the Opportunity team calls "dust-clearing season." This windy season should happen around November through January.

"The team remains hopeful that some dust clearing may result in hearing from the rover in this period," NASA says. The Mars winds have helped clean the rover's panels in the past.

Opportunity arrived on the Red Planet in 2004 and outlived its original mission plan by many years. NASA says it hasn't set any deadlines for the mission yet. 

NASA is also fielding some technical issues with its Curiosity rover, which ran into a glitch with transmitting stored data back to Earth. The rover team commanded it to switch to a backup computer "brain" in early October while it continues to diagnose the problem.

NASA plans to send a fresh rover to Mars in 2020, but it hopes to keep its current rovers operational in the meantime.