Nasa reveals last pics taken by Opportunity Mars Rover before it died

An illustration made available by NASA shows the rover Opportunity on the surface of Mars

Today's final Opportunity news briefing took on the trappings of a memorial service, featuring far more ceremony than NASA employed when the Spirit rover - Opportunity's twin in the Mars Exploration Rover mission - went dead in 2011.

The NASA experts haven't heard a peep from the golf buggy-sized vehicle since a giant dust storm hit the Red Planet back in June of past year, covering the contraption's solar panels and cutting off contact.

John Callas, project manager of NASA's Mars Exploration Rover (MER) project, provided some insight about what could have caused Opportunity to shut down for good. The Mars rover's team made its last attempt to contact Opportunity on Tuesday night, and it went unanswered.

"Over the last eight months, NASA has sent over 835 commands to Opportunity to try to get it to wake up - they got no response", said Jim Greenhouse, Space Science Director at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science.

The bot had roamed the Red Planet since 2004, but NASA lost contact with Opportunity during a planet-wide dust storm last June and hope slowly faded that the bot would wake up.

Opportunity was created to operate for just 90 days on the martian surface but far outlived even the most ardent supporter's wildest expectations, roving 28 miles across the surface of Mars for more than 14 years.

As Opportunity explored craters on Mars, it gathered important evidence to demonstrate that the planet in the ancient past was wet and warm enough to possibly sustain life, NASA said.

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A mosaic of images taken by Opportunity's panoramic camera (Pancam) during the 2,811th to 2,814th Martian days, or sols, of the rover's mission.

"I can not think of a more appropriate place for Opportunity to endure on the surface of Mars than one called Perseverance Valley", said Michael Watkins, director of JPL, said in a statement. But the historic storm proved to be too much for Opportunity.

"Opportunity" has not made a peep since 10 June. Following its initial landing in 2004, the craft found evidence of past water on Mars, accumulating evidence of a rich, potentially habitable past on Mars. However, the onset of winter at the rover's location on Mars, a region called Perseverance Valley, meant less sunlight and colder temperatures, making it increasingly unlikely the rover could be recovered. "Opportunity's just been a workhorse ... it's really a testament, I think, to how well the mission was designed and how careful the team was in operating the vehicle". After all, Opportunity wasn't the first rover to get to Mars, and it won't be the last.

Is there other life on Mars?

.

As for Opportunity, "It has given us a larger world", Callas said.

Cornell University's Steve Squyres, lead scientist for both Opportunity and Spirit, considers succumbing to a ferocious storm an "honourable way" for the mission to end.

And NASA's InSight spacecraft, the first robotic lander created to study the deep interior of a distant world, touched down safely on the surface of Mars in November with instruments to detect planetary seismic rumblings never measured anywhere but Earth.

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