NASA’s Opportunity rover on Mars has been officially pronounced dead. Its amazingly successful mission lasted nearly 15 years, well beyond its initial three-month goal. Opportunity provided the first proof that water once existed on Mars and shaped its surface, a crucial piece of knowledge informing both current and future missions.
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NASA has officially called an end to the historic Opportunity rover mission, ending a spectacular, 14-year adventure on the Red Planet. One of the rover’s most intriguing discoveries, however, came just two months after it landed, when it stumbled upon tiny objects bearing a startling resemblance to blueberries — the nature of which still divides scientists today.
As we remember the now-officially-dead Opportunity rover this week, one fact keeps sticking out to me: That machine travelled a whopping 45km across the surface of another planet. And it did so in short, nerve-wracking spurts.
Spread over the course of 14 years, 45km may not sound like that much, but consider the many obstacles Oppy faced — including an agonising 38 days stuck spinning its wheels in a soft sand dune.
A brutal dust storm engulfed Mars last summer. The planet-wide tempest spared the nuclear-powered Curiosity rover, but the older, solar-powered Opportunity rover shut down as the thick dust blocked light from the Sun. Opportunity has remained silent since June 10, 2018, despite NASA’s hundreds of attempts to contact it.
When a windy season on Mars began in November, scientists hoped that gusts might clear debris from its solar panels, but that hope appears to have been in vain. NASA continues to send recovery commands, but sadly, it seems the Opportunity mission has finally come to an end.
The distant (486958) 2014 MU69, nicknamed Ultima Thule, made history on New Year’s Day for becoming the farthest object ever visited by a spacecraft. As it’s situated in the Kuiper Belt about 4.1 billion miles from Earth, there’s much about MU69 that scientists are still learning.
Now, new images have raised even more questions about the mysterious object.
On Tuesday, NOAA and NASA released their much-anticipated analyses of global climate trends for 2018. As we expected, the agencies confirmed it was the fourth-warmest year on record for planet Earth. But the reports also highlighted just how striking a year it was for the U.S. specifically, with most of the country feeling the heat and various regions experiencing either extreme rainfall or drought.
Antarctica is the font of bad news that just keeps on giving. Thwaites Glacier, among the most threatened hunks of ice on the continent, is in even more dire straits than previously reported. Its melt from above and below is being aided by newly discovered cavities below the ice, as chronicled in Science Advances on Wednesday.
It’s been a while since we last heard from the Parker Solar Probe, the NASA spacecraft voted most likely to end up as a blistered chunk of molten metal. An update from the space agency suggests it’s now all systems go for the Sun-bound probe, which recently began its second of 24 planned stellar orbits.
The best planet is Earth, objectively, and I only say that because I live there. Other than Earth, you might find fans of Jupiter, Mars, and even Mercury. But what about planets that absolutely stink? Are there planets which aren’t and will never be habitable, have absolutely nothing interesting to study, or just induce ire for no discernible reason?
If you’re anything like me, you were probably a little disappointed when you saw the first pictures of Kuiper belt object MU69. Sure, we could make out a snowman-like shape, but it also looked like something a shot with a smartphone from a moving car.
In 2017, Nancy Lee Carlson of Illinois auctioned off a genuine Apollo 11 lunar sample bag for $3 million dollars. That’s a good score given she purchased the bag for $1,400, but she was expecting as much as $6 million. The reason for the low value, she says, is that NASA damaged the bag — and she’s now suing the space agency to that effect.