After 15 years of crawling around Mars and beaming images of the red planet back to Earth, NASA’s Opportunity rover (RIP) succumbed to the alien weather last month — but took one last unbelievable shot of the rocky reddish terrain before it closed its robotic eyes forever.
NASA has released the final image that Opportunity took before it started gasping its last breaths in an intense Martian dust storm. The 360-degree panorama was taken at Perseverance Valley, a system of shallow troughs descending the inner slope of Endeavor Crater, the locale that eventually became its extraterrestrial grave. You have to admit that this could easily be used as a background in the next sci-fi blockbuster, and no one would ever know it’s actually real.
"This final panorama embodies what made our Opportunity rover such a remarkable mission of exploration and discovery," said Opportunity project manager John Callas of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
What you’re looking at is actually a composite of 354 individual images that Opportunity’s Panoramic Camera (Pancam) captured with three different filters from May 13 through June 10 of last year. It filtered light at wavelengths from near-infrared (too long for the human eye to process at 753 nanometers) to green (535 nanometers) and violet (432 nanometers). The solar-powered rover had no time to use the filters to record some areas, which explains the black and white frames at the bottom left.
Put on those 3D glasses (the blue and red kind) you thought you’d never use again to see the panorama in three dimensions:
Look to the right of center and out into the distance to see the rim of Endeavor crater. Slightly to the left is a trail of rover tracks that descend towards geological features that NASA scientists had their eye on for close-ups until Opportunity couldn’t handle the weather anymore. Far to the right and left are the floor of the Perseverance Valley and the floor of Endeavor Crater, which still remain unexplored, waiting for future spacecraft and eventually humans to find out what might be hidden in that red dust.
The image below is an edited version of the same panorama captured by Pancam, as close to true color as possible:
If you really want to zoom in, touch down right over here.
Opportunity’s discoveries have given us an unprecedented understanding of Martian geology and the planet’s radiation-bombed environment, something invaluable when it comes to planning out missions for future rovers like Mars 2020 or figuring out how to design space suits and habitats for potential human exploration.
Unfortunately, the rover breathed its last in a killer dust storm that swept the Red Planet last June, but someday, it might be a relic for future generations of astronauts to preserve in a Martian museum.