Opportunity Rover Spotted From Mars Orbit

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The Opportunity rover is still taking an extended nap on Mars, but NASA has caught sight of the little robot. With the aid of the HiRISE camera aboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), NASA has pinpointed Opportunity’s location on the slopes of Perseverance Valley. Knowing where the rover ended up is a nice development, but it doesn’t get us much closer to reviving Opportunity.

NASA’s Opportunity is ancient by the standards of a Mars rover. It touched down on Mars in 2004, and has traveled more than 28 miles thus far. Opportunity operated continuously until June 2018. That’s when the plucky little rover was overtaken by a massive Martian dust storm. The image from MRO above (click for large version) was captured from 166 miles above the planet’s surface. The white box marks an area 154 feet across (47 meters). Opportunity is the small dot right in the center.

Mars occasionally experiences global dust storms, and the one over this past summer was particularly severe. According to NASA, the tau (a measure of how much light is blocked) reached more than 10. Without dust storms, the tau of Mars’ atmosphere hovers around 1. NASA captured the MRO image of Opportunity on September 20th when the Tau was again just 1.3.

The new image shows Opportunity where it stopped when NASA put it in hibernation mode several months ago. Since Opportunity is solar powered, NASA knew it would be unable to operate during the dust storm. The team hoped it would retain enough power to keep its heaters and communication system running, but that looks increasingly unlikely now.

According to NASA, the terrain around Opportunity looks redder than usual for that region. That could indicate dust from the storm has fallen in a thick layer across the Perseverance Valley. If a layer of dust has covered Opportunity’s solar panels, it may never wake up. It’s been several months of no contact from the rover, indicating it never managed to power back up after the storm settled. Without power for its heaters, the batteries may have become inoperable. So, it might not even matter if the solar panels are clear at this point.

Earlier this month, NASA set a 45-day deadline for Opportunity to wake up. If the rover does not miraculously awaken and ping Earth by then, NASA will consider the mission over. Not everyone is happy with that decision, but Opportunity’s chances are admittedly low.

Now read: The Martian Dust Storm Is Clearing, but Opportunity Remains SilentNASA Celebrates 5 Years of Curiosity With New Mars Rover Video, and Strange ‘cauliflower’ rocks on Mars may hide clues to ancient life

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