A massive dust storm whirled around the Opportunity Rover on June 10, 2018, forcing the robot to shut itself down and save energy. The dust blocked almost all sunlight and turned from day to night.
Opportunity would never awaken. On Wednesday, NASA announced that it would no longer try to revive the 15-year-old machine and officially end the legendary alien mission.
But on this dark June day, just before Opportunity fell silent, the Rover made one final picture:
The image conquered a world of Mars, which was enveloped in darkness by the dust storm.
"This was the last image we've ever taken," said Bill Nelson, head of the Opportunity Mission engineering team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, shortly after NASA declared the mission over.
"We're seeing incredibly low levels of sunlight-0.002 percent of the normal sunlight we'd expect," Nelson said. "If you were there, it would be late at dusk, your human eye would still be able to see some features, but it would be very dark."
However, in this final image, no Martian features are visible.
In the picture, the white static in the middle of the black is just a picture noise that the camera has taken in the darkened environment ("This is like the picture you get on your phone in a very dark environment," Nelson said). The thick black bar at the bottom of the image is data that never returned to Earth – as if Opportunity's message were cut off in the middle of a sentence.
If the rover had not been hit by such a dust storm, he would have taken a picture in a 20-meter-wide canal while Opportunity was looking down a valley, Nelson said.
The so-called "Perseverance Valley" became the last resting place of Opportunity.
Six days ago, Opportunity has taken the following picture of the vast, sloping environment.
Over the lifetime of Opportunity, the Rover shot well over 200,000 images and sent them back to Earth.
One of Nelson's favorites just entered 180 Mars Days or sols into Opportunity's exploration of the red planet. As the sun shone behind the rover, Opportunity took in a picture of its long shadow.
"It's very indicative of the status of this rover," Nelson said. "Here we are all alone with a tiny rover on this alien alien planet."
Now the 400-pound robot will spend thousands of years being shrouded in red dust, and NASA engineers like Nelson will be engaging in other alien projects, as well as its entire NASA reconnaissance team.
"It's bittersweet," Nelson said, noting how proud he was of working with engineers and scientists who had been leading the opportunity for about 15 years. "Now our teams will disperse into the wind."