The young planet Mars would have had enough water to cover its entire surface in a liquid layer about 140 metres deep, but it is more likely that the liquid would have pooled to form an ocean occupying nearly half of Mars's northern hemisphere, and in some regions reaching depths greater than 1.6 kilometers.
"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", Callas noted. The storm did not affect NASA's Curiosity rover, because the second craft is nuclear powered.
NASA has provided a pretty solid update about Opportunity's status, building on the one they provided back on August 17. Our team is hoping that Opportunity will "call home" shortly as the skies continues to clear. Its engineers are relying on the expertise of Mars scientists who have been analysing data aboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) to estimate the tau near the rover's position. At the end of that 45-day window while tau has still remained low, if we have not heard from the vehicle, we will stop our active listening (commanding) mode for Opportunity.
The issue here is that Opportunity's solar panels may be covered in dust, a real concern given the storm that the rover just weathered.
In that case, the team will continue passive listening efforts for several months, with the help of JPL Radio, which will scour the signal records taken by a very sensitive broadband receiver of radio frequencies emanating from Mars, looking for a sign that the rover is trying to reach out.
That dust storm, which at one point encircled the planet, is fading. Surface features are finally starting to become visible again in more and more regions around the planet and the "middle" atmosphere is also starting to cool down. However as rapidly as a measurement of atmospheric opacity identified as "tau" dips underneath 1.5, the DSN dialog advertising and marketing campaign will step up a great deal, Callas stated.
The longer the robot goes without generating the electricity needed to charge its batteries, NASA says the batteries could "brown out" and the rover will join the defunct likes of Spirit, the Opportunity rover's near-identical sister machine.
Let's hope we speak soon, Opportunity. The rover has been active for far longer than its design specification - 5535 sols since landing, as of September 1, 2018.
"We are pulling for our tenacious rover to pull her feet from the fire one more time", Callas said.
That gives Opportunity a chance to begin absorbing sunlight from its spot in Mars' Perseverance Valley.
"Assuming that we hear back from Opportunity, we will begin the process of discerning its status and bringing it back online", John Callas, Opportunity project manager at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a statement. If the team doesn't hear back from Opportunity during that period of time, the space agency will assume that something has impacted the rover in a way that prevents its recovery. We'll all be waiting to see what happens next.
Opportunity is going on 60 times its planned mission life, has traveled 28 miles (45 kilometers) and found evidence of water on Mars and conditions that may have been suitable for sustaining microbial life.