Opportunity rover captured beautiful panoramic images before being felled by dust storm
Just before a planet-wide Martian dust storm silenced it forever, NASA’s Opportunity rover captured panoramic images from its location in Endeavour Crater’s Perseverance Valley, which mission team members used to create composite photographs in false color revealing the area in stunning detail.
Between May 13 and June 10, 2018, the rover’s Panoramic Camera (Pancam) captured images using three separate filters, one in the near-infrared, one in green light, and one in violet light. Mission scientists combined 354 separate images taken during this period and added false color to distinguish various features, such as the rover’s tracks, its low-gain antenna, a rocky outcrop known as “Ysleta del Sur,” the rim of Endeavor Crater, and a small hill on the crater rim.
Perseverance Valley sits on the inner slope of Endeavour Crater’s western rim and is composed of shallow troughs stretching from the top of the rim to the bottom, approximately the length of two football fields.
Several of the last frames Pancam took before the dust storm forced the rover to shut down are black and white only because the camera did not have time to photograph these areas with the green and violet filters. These final images show the sky growing opaque as the dust storm strengthened, with the last full frame image incomplete, depicting a darkening sky.
“This final panorama embodies what made our Opportunity rover such a remarkable mission of exploration and discovery,” John Callas of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, who served as Opportunity project manager, said in a NASA news release. “To the right of center, you can see the rim of Endeavour Crater rising in the distance. 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.”
For nearly 15 years, Opportunity, which landed on Mars in 2004 along with its twin rover Spirit, studied the Martian surface, returning knowledge about the planet’s geology and environment that will prove useful to scientists long into the future and likely serve as a guide for upcoming missions.
Spirit and Opportunity, each designed for a 90-day mission, landed on opposite sides of the Red Planet. After one of its wheels got stuck in soft terrain in 2009, Spirit lost power because it could not properly adjust its solar panels. Following its final communication with Earth in March 2010, mission scientists attempted to resume contact for over a year before declaring the mission over in May 2011.
Efforts to re-establish contact with the silent Opportunity following the months-long 2018 dust storm were unsuccessful, leading NASA to end the mission in February 2019.
Laurel Kornfeld is an amateur astronomer and freelance writer from Highland Park, NJ, who enjoys writing about astronomy and planetary science. She studied journalism at Douglass College, Rutgers University, and earned a Graduate Certificate of Science from Swinburne University’s Astronomy Online program. Her writings have been published online in The Atlantic, Astronomy magazine’s guest blog section, the UK Space Conference, the 2009 IAU General Assembly newspaper, The Space Reporter, and newsletters of various astronomy clubs. She is a member of the Cranford, NJ-based Amateur Astronomers, Inc. Especially interested in the outer solar system, Laurel gave a brief presentation at the 2008 Great Planet Debate held at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab in Laurel, MD.