The Mars rover Opportunity has been cleaned of heavy dust coating its solar panels, thanks to some strong winds blowing over the rim of Endeavour Crater.
The “before” picture (left) was taken in early January, and the “after” picture (right) was captured late last month. The dramatic change occurred in mid-March, when strong winds swept over the rim of Endeavour crater and removed almost all of the accumulated dust.
Note the shadow of the rover’s main mast on the central solar panels; the rover can take a 360° mosaic of itself, but cannot see its own mast, which accounts for the dark star-shaped hole above the mast’s shadow in both pictures.
This is Opportunity’s sixth Maritain winter, and scientists estimate that after this dusting, the rover is as clean as it was during its first winter on the Red Planet back in 2004.
What does this mean for the rover? The amount of electricity available for the rover’s ongoing work has increased because the solar panels can harvest more sunlight to convert into energy. Solar-power production is now above 80% of its maximum, having jumped from 375 watt-hours per day in January to 620 watt-hours in mid-April.
Thus, Opportunity has been reinvigorated with the energy of a lively robot, ten years younger. This is good news to the science team and rover groupies alike (especially after saying goodbye to Spirit four years ago). This unexpected energy boost allows for the possibility of future science opportunities, in addition to continuing the already-under-way investigation of Murray Ridge, located on the western rim of Endeavor Crater.