Looking Up: Making The Most Of Opportunity

Jun 10, 2019

This dramatic image of NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity's shadow was taken on sol 180 (July 26, 2004) by the rover's front hazard-avoidance camera.
Credit NASA/JPL-Caltech / nasa.gov

Opportunity is dead. Long live Opportunity!

Today, June 10th, is a somewhat sad yet very satisfying anniversary. You see it was a year ago today that the good folks at NASA were last able to talk to a plucky little robot named Opportunity on the surface of Mars.

Alas, Opportunity is no more, and as of February 13th, NASA formally ended all efforts to talk to the little rover and pronounced the vehicle dead.

But what a life it had. Launched in 2003, Opportunity landed on Mars in January 2004, about three weeks after an identical rover, named Spirit, landed on Mars far from where Opportunity would come down. Both rovers far exceeded their 90-day mission requirements and kept driving around and sending back wonderful pictures and other data for years. We lost Spirit back in 2010, but Opportunity kept plugging along, ultimately driving more than 28 miles across the Martian surface. Unfortunately, a planet-wide dust storm likely covered Opportunity’s solar panels with a thick layer of dust, through which the batteries could not recharge.

Both missions were wildly successful, but both spacecraft are now dead. So raise a toast to Opportunity, and thank it for the amazing science. Well done, Opportunity, well done.

If you’d like to take a closer look at Mars, or any of the other wonderful and amazing things in the sky, please visit csastro.org for a link to information on our monthly meetings and our free public star parties.