NASA Catches Sight Of The Opportunity Rover On Mars

Opportunity Mars rover
NASA / JPL-Caltech / Univ. of Arizona

It’s been more than three months since the Opportunity rover went silent on Mars after a massive dust storm engulfed the entire red planet, darkening the Martian skies and rendering the robot unable to charge its solar-powered batteries.

But although NASA hasn’t heard from the 14-year-old robot — endearingly dubbed Oppy — in quite a long time, the space agency still has eyes on the silent rover and has recently managed to capture a new photo of its location on Mars.

Last week, Oppy was spotted by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), which has been orbiting the red planet for 12 years. During the last few months, the MRO has monitored the massive dust storm on Mars while orbiting the planet, waiting for the haze to subside so it could photograph the Martian surface again.

On September 20, the orbiter caught sight of the Opportunity rover on the slopes of Perseverance Valley, where the robot has been stranded since early June. As the Inquisitr previously reported, Oppy was trekking down the valley, located on the western rim of the Endeavour Crater, when the monster dust storm hit Mars in late May.

With the skies finally clearing over the Martian landscape, the MRO was able to snap a photo of the area from a distance of about 166 miles (267 kilometers) above Mars, marking the whereabouts of the still-silent Opportunity rover.

Unveiled by NASA on September 25, the snapshot pinpoints Oppy’s location inside a white square that represents “a 154-foot-wide (47-meter-wide) area centered on the rover,” the space agency noted in the photo release.

“NASA’s Opportunity rover appears as a blip in the center of this square. This image taken by HiRISE, a high-resolution camera onboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, shows the dust storm over Perseverance Valley has substantially cleared,” stated NASA officials.

According to the space agency, the rover’s team at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, has been trying to contact Oppy ever since the Martian dust storm began to abate, in the hopes that the hibernating robot would awaken from its slumber and resume science operations.

Last month, NASA explained that the Opportunity rover would stand a better chance of waking up and recharging its batteries if the sun-blocking dust particles in the Martian atmosphere dropped to a tau level below 2.0, the Inquisitr reported at the time.

On the day the new MRO photo was taken, the orbiter’s MARCI wide-angle camera estimated a tau measurement of about 1.3. This means that about 25 percent of the direct sunlight is now reaching the Martian surface, specified NASA.

“A key unknown is how much dust has fallen on the solar arrays. The HiRISE image shows some reddening of the surrounding area, suggesting dust fallout, but it is not possible to determine how much dust is on the arrays themselves,” explained the space agency.