The Rover Spirit is hibernating on a dark slope on the winter end of the planet Mars. Solar panels may be providing enough energy to keep its clock going. If not, it will become suspended in time and not know to wake up and send a signal that it is ‘alive.’ The panels may or may not keep the battery temperatures above 40 degrees below zero Celsius so that batteries survive the Martian winter, which is said to be almost as bad as the Minnesota winter. But probably not. And for now, the mission controllers are waiting for a beep that could come any time.

The earliest date the rover could generate enough power to send a beep to Earth was calculated to be around July 23. However, mission managers don’t anticipate the batteries will charge adequately until late September to mid-October. It may be even later if the rover is in a mission-clock fault mode. If Spirit does wake up, mission managers will do a complete health check on the rover’s instruments and electronics.

Based on previous Martian winters, the rover team anticipates the increasing haziness in the sky over Spirit will offset longer daylight for the next two months. The amount of solar energy available to Spirit then will increase until the southern Mars summer solstice in March 2011. If we haven’t heard from it by March, it is unlikely that we will ever hear from it.

“This has been a long winter for Spirit, and a long wait for us,” said Steve Squyres, the principal investigator for NASA’s two rovers who is based at Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y. “Even if we never heard from Spirit again, I think her scientific legacy would be secure. But we’re hopeful we will hear from her, and we’re eager to get back to doing science with two rovers again.”

NASA

Beep home, Spirit! Beep home!!!!

Comments

  1. #1 Bob
    July 30, 2010

    Poor Spirit: http://xkcd.com/695/

  2. #2 Greg Laden
    July 30, 2010

    :(

  3. #3 Benton Jackson
    July 30, 2010

    > almost as bad as the Minnesota winter
    Ha!

  4. #4 scidog
    July 30, 2010

    HA..you say,shall i tell you about the 60 Chevy,then 10 years old,parked in the dorm lot at Bemidji State for the winter!
    but anyway it’s not been that long since just slamming a craft into the moon for a few photos was big time science.

  5. #5 Peromyscus
    July 31, 2010

    I see Bob beat me to it! Yes, poor little rover. I feel the same way Greg does every time I see that particular panel.

  6. #6 LightningRose
    July 31, 2010

    40 degrees below zero Celsius

    Don’t you mean -40 degrees Fahrenheit? ;)

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