Several days ago, we posted about a malfunction in NASA’s Mars rover, Curiosity. The rover was having issues with its memory; it was sending back information on its system status, but nothing else, and failed to enter the daily “sleep mode” when planned. As a result, Curiosity was put in “safe mode” while NASA scientists attempted to troubleshoot the problem (essentially, it took an extended nap). Fortunately, the rover is equipped with two computers, so it wasn’t totally inoperable during the troubleshooting process.
After they noticed the malfunction, the team began transferring operations from the malfunctioning computer, the “A-Side,” to the backup computer, “B-Side.” They had started to restore regular operations to Curiosity’s systems when, earlier this week, a large cloud of superheated plasma erupted from the sun. The high energy particles ejected during this eruption were blasted towards Mars (and the injured rover) at speeds nearing 1,200 miles a second (1,900km/s).
This event is known as a “coronal mass ejection,” or CME. Essentially, it is a ball-like magnetic field that is packed with charged particles, and which has become detached from the sun (of course, when we say “detached,” we mean that it was expelled at amazing speeds in a cosmic explosion of epic proportions). These high energy particles can damage electronics and injure vital operations. To protect the rover’s delicate systems, NASA decided to power down the rover (again).
So for 22 hours, while the coronal mass ejection hurled through space, Curiosity slept.
But now we’re back in action. At the present time, Curiosity has transitioned from the precautionary “safe mode” to active status, and it seems to be on the path to full recovery. The NASA team working on the rover stated that Curiosity should return to full operations sometime within the next week. However, although the rover is on the path to recovery, NASA scientists are still not sure what caused the initial malfunction.
But she *is* on the path to recover, and that’s something. For anyone who is regularly with us here at From Quarks to Quasars, you’ll know how exciting this news is for all of us. We have been following Curiosity’s mission for quite some time: from the nail-biting landing on Mars’ surface, the first image, to the discovery of the sedimentary rocks which indicate that water once flowed across the planet; from the underground channels that hint at ancient megafloods, to the first drilling of a Martian rock—Over the past few months, Curiosity has been something that unites us….it’s something that we can all root for.
It’ll be good to have her back.