Nasa’s Opportunity rover is officially dead, the space agency has said, after it disappeared in a dust storm on Mars.
The robot set a huge number of records as it travelled across the Martian surface, eventually travelling some 28 miles and lasting far longer than any other Mars lander. It discovered that water once flowed on the planet and lit up the world with the possibility that it might once have supported life.
But in June – after sending messages back to Nasa that indicated it was getting dark and its batteries were running low – the rover went silent. A vast dust storm had covered the entire planet and is thought to have covered up the solar panels that provided Opportunity with its power, leading it to shut down.
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Nasa sent more than 1,000 messages to try and wake up the rover and get it working once again. But its last try was sent on Tuesday evening and went unanswered, leading the space agency to declare the rover dead.
It brought an end to 15 years of exploration over the red planet. Opportunity arrived at the beginning of 2004 alongside an identical twin known as Spirit for a mission that was only intended to last just three months.
Nasa last heard from Opportunity on 10 June. Flight controllers kept trying to re-send messages to try and wake the rover back up – but even when the dust storm cleared and sunlight should have been getting through, no response was received.
Engineers think the internal clock might have become scrambeld by the long outage, meaning that the rover woke up at the wrong time and drained its batteries.
Mars is now heading for an extended cold spell that will probably destroy the components powering Opportunity forever. Scientists are unlikely to ever know why both Opportunity and Spirit died.
Opportunity’s death means that Curiosity is the only functioning rover on the planet’s surface. Many more are expected to join it – the ExoMars rover, for instance, an international project that hopes to look for signs of life – with two new robots expected to arrive next year.