Farewell, Oppy

It was a persevering Mars rover, one who would inspire countless memories for those who worked with it and analyzed its data. Right up until NASA scientists lost contact with it, Opportunity (or as many called it, Oppy) drove far and beyond what we thought capable on the Marian landscape.

Panorama Above ‘Perseverance Valley’ on Mars. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/Arizona State Univ.

Launched from Earth in 2003 and landing on Mars January 25, 2004, Oppy’s mission was to search of signs of past life on the red planet. Primarily, the rover had to document proof that liquid water ran on the surface of Mars. The rover accomplished just that in March 2004, taking pictures of rock formations that exhibited “strong evidence” of a formerly wet environment.

Martian “blueberries,” or hematite-rich mineral concentrations, indicate a watery environment on Mars. Credit NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/USGS

Oppy’s mission was supposed to last only 90 Mars days, but as the last day came and went, the rover  drove on. Scientists took this opportunity (?) to drive the rover to various craters, valleys, and rocks, pushing the rover beyond it’s original mission to investigating potential signs of ancient life on Mars. It obliged, traversing for 15 years and over 28 miles of the Martian surface.

Oppy’s first selfie, taken on the 5000th Mars-day of its mission. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Though Oppy made many discoveries, the discovery that stands out for me happened in 2011. While driving around the Endeavour crater’s rim, the rover investigated a tiny vein of mineral scientists call “Homestake.” It was about the width of a human thumb, between 16-20 in. long, and unlike anything else Opportunity had seen during its mission. After careful analysis, scientists concluded that the mineral vein was “relatively pure calcium sulfate,” indicating that water “flowed through underground fractures in the rock” (NASA Mars Rover Finds Mineral Vein Deposited by Water). It was the strongest evidence yet that water flowed freely on Mars!

‘Homestake’ Vein in Color. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/ASU

NASA lost contact with Opportunity on June 10, 2018—5111 Mars days since it’s landing. Though scientists tried for months to establish contact (and even made a playlist of wake up music for it!), the rover still slept on the Martian surface. On February 12, the rover’s team on Earth sent its last uplink transmission to the rover and ended the mission.

You can find many articles about how far the rover traveled, or what its last transmission was. There’s even a whole gallery on Twitter of people thanking Oppy with images and comics! My lasting memory of Opportunity is simple: never give up! Persevere through whatever life throws at you. And, of course, take every opportunity to investigate what intrigues you.

Opportunity moon-gazing at Mars’ moon Deimos. Credit NASA/JPL/Cornell/Texas A&M

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Kalyna Durbak
“Rock On!”

Kalyna Durbak

Kalyna is a copywriter at GeekGirlCon, and a professional Jill-of-all-trades.

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