Space Photos of the Week: The Trail of Opportunity and More
The Trail of Opportunity and More Eye Candy From Space
This week, NASA had to say farewell to the Opportunity rover, which had been exploring Mars for the past 15 years. Its final months are a tale of grit, literal and figurative: Late last spring, a dust storm engulfed the entire Martian planet—the worst, most severe storm ever observed there.
Blasts of wind kicked fine grains of dust and sand off the surface; because of the planet’s lower gravity, the particles hung in the atmosphere for months. The storm was so powerful and the clouds so thick that they prevented sunlight from reaching the rover’s solar panels. NASA last heard from Oppy in June 2018, and after 7 months of trying to wake it up, scientists finally declared they had done all they could. The mission was over.
Opportunity and its twin, Spirit, were only expected to last some 90 days on Mars. When the two rovers landed in January 2004, NASA thought the planet’s dust eventually would accumulate on the solar panels and keep their batteries from recharging. What scientists didn’t fully grasp, however, is that Mars has seasons just like Earth. Yes, the dust would build up, but in time a breeze would come and blow it off the solar panels. The simple fact of seasonal reoccurrence was, in large part, what kept the rovers going for so many years. (The Spirit mission officially ended in 2011.)
We’re staying on Mars a bit longer this week. Not only do we have to pay our respects to the intrepid Opportunity, but InSight , NASA’s latest Martian lander, is busy getting settled on the surface to do some science. This mission is the first in history that will study the interior of the red planet. After 40 years of exploration, we are still learning new things about our neighbor.
The best way to remember Opportunity and cheer on InSight is by diving into WIRED’s full collection of space photos, here.
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