“My battery is low and it’s getting dark.”
Scientific and non-scientific circles of the internet alike joined together in mourning the loss of the long-lived Mars rover Opportunity after reports that NASA had received final confirmation that, after 15 years of service, the machine was powering down for the last time, LAist reports.
After science reporter Jabob Margolis tweeted out the “battery is low” line, following conversations with NASA officials, the internet lost its collective mind over the reportedly sentimental last words of the faraway rover. Memes, images, and passionate mini-eulogies immediately began to pop up all over, with artists and students of science alike putting their own spin on the touching words. Some were already designing tattoos around the concept to commemorate Opportunity’s service.
There’s only one problem: it apparently never happened.
Margolis has since published a follow-up article to his coverage of the rover’s retirement, explaining that he never intended for “My battery is low and its getting dark” to be treated as an exact quote that had actually been transmitted from the fading rover. In fact, he was just poetically rephrasing what NASA technicians had told him about Opportunity’s final hours, in which they received a transmission that simply indicated that the rover’s solar panels weren’t getting enough light and that the battery was likely to deplete.
So, ultimately, it was less akin to Shakespearean dying words and more like when your phone tells you it has a low battery.
The last message they received was basically, “My battery is low and it’s getting dark.” They hoped that the windy season would clear dust off the solar panels (if that was the problem). Since then they've been pinging her again and again, every way they knew… 3/
— Jacob Margolis (@JacobMargolis) February 12, 2019
In his clarifying follow-up article, Margolis did shed some light on how the actual chain of events unfolded, which were equally as dramatic, if less poignant than his original off-hand interpretation.
Recounting his conversation with NASA Deputy Project Scientist Abigail Fraeman, Margolis walked readers through a play-by-play of the rover’s final days. Fraeman recounted that they realized a June dust storm on Mars was going to be particularly severe and that Oppy — the nickname for Opportunity — was in danger of not getting enough sunlight to continue functioning.
Engineers at the time directed Opportunity to conserve energy as much as possible.
“By Thursday, we knew that it was bad. And then by Friday, we knew it was really bad, but there was nothing we could do but watch. And then it was Sunday, we actually got a communication from the rover and we were shocked,” Fraeman said. “It basically said we had no power left, and that was the last time we heard from it.”
Her words marks a more accurate, if less meme-worthy, description of events.