A set of newly released photos shows what NASA's Mars rover Opportunity was looking at just before the killer dust storm hit.
That storm boiled up in May 2018 and engulfed Opportunity shortly thereafter. The solar-powered robot couldn't get enough sunlight to recharge its batteries, and it went silent on June 10. NASA tried gamely to revive the long-lived Oppy but had no luck, finally declaring the rover dead last month.
As the sky darkened around it last spring, Opportunity snapped many photos of its environs — Perseverance Valley, on the rim of the 14-mile-wide (22 kilometers) Endeavour Crater — using its panoramic camera.
Mission team members have now stitched together 354 of these images, taken from May 13 through June 10, into a gorgeous panorama of the rover's final resting place.
"This final panorama embodies what made our Opportunity rover such a remarkable mission of exploration and discovery," Opportunity project manager John Callas, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said in a statement Tuesday (March 12).
"To the right of center, you can see the rim of Endeavor Crater rising in the distance," he added. "Just to the left of that, rover tracks begin their descent from over the horizon and weave their way down to geologic features that our scientists wanted to examine up close. And to the far right and left are the bottom of Perseverance Valley and the floor of Endeavour Crater, pristine and unexplored, waiting for visits from future explorers."
A few frames of the panorama remain black-and-white, because the dust storm swept in before Opportunity could image those areas using all of its color filters, NASA officials said.
The panorama is very large and zoomable; you can get the full effect via the mission team here.
Also on Tuesday, the mission team released the very last photos Opportunity ever took — two blurry, black-and-white thumbnails from June 10 showing a tiny, faint sun in a dark and dusty sky.
About 3 minutes earlier, Oppy had taken another photo of the dark sky, this image even noisier than the two thumbnails. But Opportunity beamed this super-speckly shot home after it sent the two thumbnails; indeed, the noisy pic was the last piece of data that Opportunity ever transmitted, NASA officials said. As the black bar at the bottom of the frame shows, the rover went dark before it could send the entire image (and before it could send the full-frame versions of the two thumbnails).
Opportunity and its twin, Spirit, landed a few weeks apart in January 2004. Together, the two robots began a planned 90-Earth-day hunt for signs of liquid water activity. They found a great deal of such evidence, confirming that the Red Planet was much wetter, and potentially habitable, in the ancient past.
Spirit and Opportunity both far outlasted their warranties. Spirit wasn't declared dead until 2011, and Opportunity was still going strong before the dust storm hit. No vehicle, crewed or robotic, has ever traveled farther on the surface of another world than Opportunity, whose odometer is forever frozen at 28.06 miles (45.16 kilometers).
And it took quite a storm to knock Oppy out; the maelstrom eventually grew to encircle the entire planet.
- The Weirdest Mars Discoveries by Opportunity and Spirit Rovers
- Mars Dust Storm 2018: How It Grew & What It Meant for Opportunity
- 10 Amazing Mars Discoveries by Rovers Spirit & Opportunity
Mike Wall's book about the search for alien life, "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), is out now. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.