Before its circuits ran cold in the shadow of a Martian dust storm, NASA‘s Opportunity rover took one long look at its surroundings and saved it for posterity. The image represents a poignant conclusion to the rover’s mission; a detailed panorama combining the most recent tracks of its marathon journey with a glimpse of the sands it would never touch. Opportunity wasn’t intended to run as long as it did.
A mere 90 days eventually stretched into 15 solid years of rolling over the Martian sands, pumping out snapshots like a tourist who’s forgotten all about their retirement.
The 360-degree image was taken from the rover’s final resting place in May last year.
Over 29 days, Opportunity soaked up its surroundings in a series of 354 individual snapshots before beaming them back to NASA for piecing together.
While most of them provide a colourful view of the landscape, the handful of black and white blocks in the corner were taken with fading energy, denying Opportunity the time it needed to capture the last of the scene in shades of green and violet.
John Callas from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California said: “This final panorama embodies what made our Opportunity rover such a remarkable mission of exploration and discovery.
“To the right of centre 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.”
Opportunity’s historic mission, which uncovered signs of Mars’s watery past and transformed our understanding of the Red Planet, finally came to an end after 15 years in February.
The cause was system failure precipitated by power loss during a catastrophic, planet-wide dust storm that engulfed the Mars rover last summer.
At the time, Mr Callas said: ”It’s going to be very sad to say goodbye.
“But at the same time, we’ve got to remember this has been 15 years of incredible adventure.”
Opportunity’s mission was planned to last just 90 days, but it worked for 5,000 Martian “sols” (which are about 39 minutes longer than an Earth day) and traversed more than 28 treacherous miles — two records for NASA.