The Opportunity rover may be gone, but its legacy endures. Throughout its 15-year-long mission, the intrepid Mars explorer has beamed back a bounty of fascinating photos from the red planet, unraveling the secrets of our planetary neighbor one frame at a time.
Right before it closed its eyes on the red planet, Opportunity – or Oppy, as NASA endearingly dubbed the robot – took one last look at the majestic Perseverance Valley and snapped a glorious photo of its final resting place. The breathtaking snapshot was unveiled by NASA on Tuesday and showcases a stunning 360-degree panorama of the rover’s location inside Mars’ Endeavour Crater.
According to the space agency, the exquisite panorama was stitched together from a whopping 354 individual images captured by Oppy’s Panoramic Camera, Pancam, over a period of 29 days. The images were taken last year, between May 13 and June 10, and cover the period of time leading up to and including the beginning of the global dust storm that eventually claimed the rover’s “life.”
First spotted by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter on May 30 as a localized event near Perseverance Valley, the dust storm ended up engulfing the entire planet — darkening the Martian sky and cutting Oppy off from the much-needed sunlight that powered its batteries. The rover shut down on June 10 and remained unresponsive for the following eight months, until NASA finally declared its mission concluded on February 13.
Its parting snapshot captured the last tracks left by Oppy on the red Martian soil, as well as a splendid view of Perseverance Valley — a system of shallow gullies spanning the length of two football fields, which the robot had been exploring since June of 2017.
As The Inquisitr previously reported, the landform is located on the inner slope of Endeavour Crater’s western rim, descending eastward from the crest of the rim to its floor. The crater itself lies within Mars’ Meridiani Planum, a massive plain found south of the planet’s equator.
Along with Opportunity’s final photo, NASA also released an annotated version of the striking panorama, presented in false color to make different terrain features more easily discernible.
“This final panorama embodies what made our Opportunity rover such a remarkable mission of exploration and discovery,” said John Callas, Opportunity project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
“To the right of center, you can see the rim of Endeavor 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.”
The interesting thing about this mosaic panorama is that the composite photo combines images taken through three different Pancam filters, near-infrared, green, and violet. Meanwhile, a few frames visible in the bottom left corner of the panorama have remained black and white. Those particular frames were among the last to be captured by Opportunity’s camera right before the massive dust storm hit Perseverance Valley.
“The solar-powered rover did not have the time to record those locations using the green and violet filters,” explained NASA.
The collection of images published by the space agency also includes the very last snapshots snatched by the robot before everything went dark around it. These final photos represent two black-and-white thumbnail images featuring the “ghostly dot of a faint sun” – which the team used to determine how opaque the sky was on Oppy’s last day on Mars – as well as a “noisy,” incomplete full-frame image of the darkened Martian sky.