Space

“The little rover that could”: what was remembered and what discoveries did the rover Opportunity

The probe worked much longer than it should be, told about the composition of the Martian soil and showed the sunset on the red planet.

Render Opportunity on Mars Image by NASA
Render Opportunity on Mars Image by NASA

On February 13, NASA sent the last signal to the Opportunity rover. And did not get an answer. The Office announced that the mission of the probe was completed. Opportunity has worked on Mars for almost 15 years – longer than any other rover. During this time, he overcame a record 45 kilometers, took a lot of pictures and helped to find out what kind of climate Mars was billions of years ago.

tells how the longest interplanetary mission of mankind ended and what contribution Opportunity made to the history of research of the red planet.

The mission of the rover lasted for 14 years and 9 months longer than planned

NASA launched the Opportunity rover and its twin Spirit in the summer of 2003. In January 2004, both probes successfully reached the surface of Mars. Opportunity and Spirit missions were designed for 90 days, for which they had to travel only a kilometer of the surface. However, Spirit worked on Mars for six years, and then got stuck in the sand and lost energy. Opportunity investigated the red planet for another eight years after the loss of a fellow.

For almost 15 years, the rover several times faced serious problems. Only in 2005, Opportunity lost control of one of the front wheels, landed in a sand trap, and problems with the heater threatened to limit the power of the device.

In 2007, the rover encountered a two-month sandstorm that could contaminate its solar panels and permanently lose energy, and in 2015 it lost control of another front wheel and 256 MB of flash memory. But NASA engineers, no matter what, found a way to continue the mission, until in the summer of 2018 another powerful sandstorm happened on the planet .

Opportunity filmed its own footprints and Martian whirlwind Photo by NASA
Opportunity filmed its own footprints and Martian whirlwind Photo by NASA

In June, Opportunity last contacted. According to the device, Mars was very dark, and the probe battery was almost zero. One of the strongest storms in the history of observations NASA did not allow the rover to be charged from the sun and he went into sleep mode.

After the end of the storm, the Opportunity team hoped to reconnect with the rover and wake him up. NASA assumed that as soon as the light began to fall on the solar panels of the probe, it would work again.

The project team tried all ways to contact the rover: involved , even a massive radio telescopes NASA studies for deep space exploration. However, Opportunity did not send anything in response to more than 800 signals.

NASA experts are not sure what exactly happened to the probe, but they have several explanations for what happened. According to the basic version, the storm was so strong that there was a layer of sand on the solar panels, which did not allow to receive energy. NASA until recently hoped that the problem would be solved thanks to the wind season on Mars, which lasts from November to January.

According to another version, the storm knocked down the internal Opportunity clock, so the robot was confused when to sleep and when to stay awake. One of the reasons why the rover so long on Mars was the fact that every night he was transferred to a deep sleep. This meant turning off all probe systems, including heaters.

At the beginning of the mission, the heaters worked without interruption, but overnight they almost completely consumed the energy of the rover. Therefore, NASA began to turn them off to save energy, and the rover froze, but could continue to work.

However, due to lack of energy, Opportunity could get off and not know that you need to go into a deep sleep. In this case, the heaters could work all the time and take away even the small energy that the rover received during the storm.

Opportunity before sending to Mars Photos NASA
Opportunity before sending to Mars Photos NASA

At the end of 2018, NASA still had hope of including the probe, but by February 2019 it had finally disappeared due to the onset of the Martian winter. For the rover to operate, its temperature must be above –40 ° C, and usually it had several heating methods. For example, he could get heat from electric heaters and movement on the planet.

But left without energy and movement, Opportunity was not able to warm itself. During the storm it was uncritical, as the temperatures did not fall below the required values, but in winter at night on Mars it can be up to -157 degrees. Components of the device are not ready for such temperatures, so NASA no longer expects to reconnect with it.

Opportunity found confirmation that Mars had water before and studied the landscape of the planet.

The main purpose of the mission of the Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity was to study the rocks in the craters Guseva and Erebus. Rovers had to find evidence that there was a lake, sea or ocean at the site of the craters. As planned by scientists, if there was water on Mars once, then life could exist there.

Opportunity confirmed that there was once a lot of water on Mars. The probe found hematite – a mineral that forms in water on Earth. In the crater Endeavor, the rover discovered mineral gypsum, which is direct evidence of the existence of water on Mars in the past.

Hematite balls on Mars Photos NASA
Hematite balls on Mars Photos NASA

After that, scientists began to seriously consider the version that billions of years ago, when life on Earth was only born, on Mars it was in full swing. Traces of water and data on rocks prove that the conditions on Mars were much more favorable earlier – it was “wetter and warmer”.

Not far from the landing site, Opportunity first discovered a meteorite on another planet. The rover crew stumbled upon it by accident: a probe inspected a thermal shield that it had dropped during landing, and an unusual object was discovered behind it. He was called Heat Shield Rock (“Heat Shield Stone”).

The heat shield stone is the first meteorite discovered on another planet Photo by NASA
The heat shield stone is the first meteorite discovered on another planet Photo by NASA

For nearly 15 years of operation, the probe sent 214 thousand images to the ground, including fifteen 360-degree panoramas. Thanks to Opportunity, Earthlings were the first to see the Martian sunset. In addition, the probe made the first “selfie” on Mars.

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Sunset on mars

The first "selfie" on Mars Photos NASA
The first “selfie” on Mars Photos NASA

The best pictures taken by Opportunity

NASA Photos
NASA Photos
West End Crater Endeavor Photo by NASA
West End Crater Endeavor Photo by NASA
Wdovyak Ridge Photo by NASA
Wdovyak Ridge Photo by NASA
View of the crater Endeavor Photo by NASA
View of the crater Endeavor Photo by NASA

In social networks miss the rover and thank him for his service

Rovers Opportunity and Spirit through many memorable account on Twitter, where he published comprehensive information about the rovers understandable language. After completing the mission, the probe account launched the ThanksOppy hashtag (“Thank you, Oppy”) and called for “not to forget Opportunity, one of the greatest of all time”. Users listened and began to publish their memories and thank the rover for the service.


In the picture – “Dad: Why the hell are you crying so loud?”. Headline from Google – ““ My battery has almost sat down and darkness is gathering ”: the last message of the rover Opportunity to scientists. Tweet – “Goodbye Oppy, thanks for everything.”


“The sand on Mars is red, our feelings are blue. So long, Oppy, we will miss! ”


“This is a small comic I made about the resignation of the Opportunity rover after 15 years of hard work. I hope he will meet with Spirit and they will go to watch Martian sunsets together. ”


“The news of Oppy’s death really upset me. I do not remember to cry so much. ”


“This is sur, but Opportunity has explored [Mars] more than half of my life. After so much time, you really don’t expect to hear that the story is over. No, I do not cry, you cry


“Thank you, Oppy, for all the work and service on Mars. Have a nice rest”. In the picture: “- So he will not go home ?; – He is already at home ”


“This is not“ goodbye ”, this is“ see you soon ””

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