The Weirdest Mars Discoveries by Opportunity and Spirit Rovers

Science										
		
																	This dune-covered volcanic rock bed is one of the coolest places on Mars					
								
			
	
		Mike Wehner

Communication with Opportunity was lost on June 10 a year ago, when a planet-wide dust storm, one of the most intense in decades, hid its location.

We're still awaiting official word from NASA in the form of a press briefing at 11am PST (2pm EST), but it seems certain that this is the end for the rover.

NASA's longest-running rover on Mars, Opportunity, has been pronounced dead, 15 years after it landed on the red planet. The golf cart-size rovers were created to operate as geologists for just three months, after bouncing onto our planetary neighbor inside cushioning air bags in January 2004.

Flight controllers tried numerous times to make contact, and sent one final series of recovery commands Tuesday night, along with one last wake-up song, Billie Holiday's "I'll Be Seeing You", in a somber exercise that brought tears to team members' eyes.

Scientist Abigail Fraeman was 16 years old when she first witnessed a rover landing on Mars.

In the end, Opportunity set endurance and distance records that could stand for years, if not decades. They've sent more than 835 recovery commands that remain unanswered.

"They become your children", said John Callas, project manager for JPL's rover programme.

NASA's Opportunity rover never found life on Mars, but in a photo of Meridiani Planum, it did find a mysterious object that looks like a long-eared bunny rabbit.

"But each passing day that diminishes, and at some point you have to say "enough" and move on with your life".

Its twin rover, Spirit, had landed three weeks earlier on the other side of the planet.

Despite NASA engineers' best efforts to get a response via radio channels, its last communication was on June 10, 2018.

The experience inspired her to pursue a career at JPL; Fraeman is now a deputy project scientist on the Mars exploration rover project, and works with Opportunity nearly daily.

The rover's greatest gift, according to Professor Squyres, was providing a geologic record at two distinct places where water once flowed on Mars, and describing the conditions there that may have supported possible ancient life. After an intense storm hit the rover last June, Opportunity went silent and we haven't heard a peep back since.

"[Opportunity] has given us a larger world", Dr Callas said.

Cornell University's Steve Squyres, lead scientist for both Opportunity and Spirit, considers succumbing to a ferocious storm an "honorable way" for the mission to end.

"Mars is now part of our neighbourhood", he added.

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