NASA's Opportunity rover to get some sun as Mars dust storm wanes

Another moment in the sun for NASA's Mars rover as planet-wide dust storm continues to subside.

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Jackson Ryan was CNET's science editor, and a multiple award-winning one at that. Earlier, he'd been a scientist, but he realized he wasn't very happy sitting at a lab bench all day. Science writing, he realized, was the best job in the world -- it let him tell stories about space, the planet, climate change and the people working at the frontiers of human knowledge. He also owns a lot of ugly Christmas sweaters.
Jackson Ryan
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The plight of NASA's Mars Opportunity rover since a massive dust storm encircled Mars on June 10 has captured the attention of stargazers everywhere.

Questions abound about the rover's status and whether or not it can wake from its slumber since the Martian skies darkened with dust. A lack of sunlight meant the solar-powered rover couldn't recharge.

Will the little Rover phone home? When can we expect to hear from it again? Is it... dead? Oh god. Please no. Come on little guy.

NASA has provided a pretty solid update about Opportunity's status, building on the one they provided back on Aug. 17. First things first, the health of Opportunity remains unknown. However, the site that Opportunity currently occupies is no longer engulfed by the planet-encircling dust storm that has plagued Mars since late May.

That gives Opportunity a chance to begin absorbing sunlight from its spot in Mars' Perseverance Valley. It's hoped this sunlight will enable the rover to go initiate an automatic recovery procedure -- provided it still has the will to go on.

Watch this: Mars rover Curiosity takes selfie during brutal dust storm

For now, all NASA can do is wait. But a soft deadline to hear back from the silent rover has been imposed by mission managers.

"If we do not hear back after 45 days, the team will be forced to conclude that the Sun-blocking dust and the Martian cold have conspired to cause some type of fault from which the rover will more than likely not recover," says John Callas, Opportunity project manager told NASA Friday.

The team will continue to passively listen to the rover for several months after the soft deadline passes though, because there's a chance that the dust that has settled on Opportunity's solar panels will be whisked off by a Martian cleaning crew known as a "dust devil".

These towering weather events have previously been shown to blow all the dust Opportunity's solar arrays before. If that's the reason Opportunity isn't responding, then there's a chance -- a slim chance -- that a dust devil may fix that.

The little rover that just won't quit has traveled 28.06 miles since landing on the planet in 2004, rolling all about Mars' red soil for 14 years. The original mission was designed to last for just 90 days, so Opportunity has outperformed about 60 times over. You can continue to monitor its status at the mission updates page.

Let's hope we speak soon, Opportunity.

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