A Final Farewell to the Opportunity Rover on Mars

first_imgStay on target NASA Says 2 Asteroids Will Safely Fly By Earth This WeekendScientists Discover Possible Interstellar Visitor This month, the NASA rover Opportunity was declared dead. Lost to one of the Martian surface’s many dust storms, the bot was originally launched way back in 2003 alongside its sister, Spirit. The pair were only meant to operate for about 90 days. Opportunity (often affectionally referred to as “Oppy”) managed to hang on for more than 50 times that — covering more than 28 miles and making all manner of major discoveries. It’s also considered one of the greatest successes in the history of space exploration.To be clear, Oppy’s been out of commission for almost a year at this point. Due to a planet-wide dust storm last year, the rover was likely covered in a layer of dust that kept it from soaking enough solar power to keep running. It entered hibernation back on June 12, 2018, with engineers and staff hoping that it would come back online after the storm cleared, but it never did.An artistic illustration of NASA’s Opportunity rover on Mars. (Photo Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell University)It’s hard to say exactly what happened for sure, but it’s unlikely it was damaged in the way we’d normally expect. While Martian storms are bad, the atmosphere is so thin that winds don’t have a lot of actual force behind them. Still, it’s possible that dust or small rocks or just about anything else damaged some critical component— or that the panels are still caked with dust. In either case, NASA’s sent hundreds of “wake up” signals since then, only to be met with silence.As you might expect from more than a decade of exploration, Opportunity had some phenomenal accomplishments. To date, it’s gone farther than any other rover on any other extra-terrestrial surface. As of 2015, it clocked a complete marathon — 26.2 miles. One of Oppy’s firsts — Heat Shield Rock — was the first meteorite ever found on another planet. Named for its proximity to Opportunity’s discarded heat shield, the stone was an exceptional find in itself, though, admittedly, it wasn’t what the rover had been sent to find, per se.Opportunity used its panoramic camera to take the images used in this approximately true-color composite of the first meteorite of any type ever identified on another planet on Jan. 6, 2005, the rover’s 339th martian day, or sol. (Photo Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell)The biggest questions surrounding Mars are whether or not it ever supported life. Now, we are certain that Mars has and has had liquid water. But at the time Oppy landed, NASA was only just beginning to understand the nature of Martian geography — relatively speaking. Early on, the team concluded that Opportunity landed on the edges of what was once an ancient coastline. Evidence for this is complicated — involving detailed observations of rock and mineral formations — but extensive. Hematite, the shiny gray stones you might find in a new age shop, are among the strongest indicators. And Opportunity found loads of it. Taken with the Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity’s front hazard-avoidance camera on the 45th martian day, or sol, of the rover’s mission (March 10, 2004), this image shows the area dubbed “Berry Bowl,” where many dark and mysterious spherules or “blueberries” collected in a depression on the surface of a rock. (Photo Credit: NASA/JPL)The mineral often forms when water flows through rocks, but can come from certain types of vulcanism. In time, however, the rover found other telltale signs of water, including small spherical rocks dubbed “spherules.” These had an almost polished appearance, and showed up in some odd places, including on a bowl-shaped rock. The formation was known as the “berry bowl,” because scientists, being some of the smartest, most observant folks on the planet, thought it looked kinda like a bowl of berries.While a bit old hat now that NASA’s follow-up, Curiosity, has all but confirmed the presence of liquid water, we can forget just how groundbreaking this was just a few years ago — not to mention the effects these types of discoveries have on our understanding of the rarity of life in the universe. To the robot who turned 90 days into 15 years of exploration:You were, and are, the Opportunity of a lifetime.Rest well, rover. Your mission is complete.(2004-2019)https://t.co/POzRmYauHo#ThanksOppy pic.twitter.com/oZLBc7XMJD— Spirit and Oppy (@MarsRovers) February 13, 2019Opportunity, and by extension, its companion, Spirit, have helped lay the foundations for further exploration of our closest planetary neighbor. The Red Planet has long puzzled the minds of our kin — both ancient and contemporary. As our society gears up to potentially settle on the planet in the coming decades, Opportunity will be remembered as the bedrock of future exploration.Well done.More on Geek.com:40 Incredible Images of the Surface of MarsNew Images of Mars Show Valleys From Ancient RiversPlanned Mars Rover Named After Female DNA Pioneerlast_img

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