NASA has shared Opportunity’s final photograph from the surface of Mars. The rover’s final resting place is in Endeavour Crater, and barring any statistically unlikely event, it will sit there for centuries, millennia, or even longer. And instead of a tombstone, we have this final image.
The image is a panorama, captured at the end-point of Opportunity’s 15-year, marathon-plus journey. Opportunity’s odometer is now stopped at 28 miles, or 45 kilometers, and its chronometer at 5,111 sols.
354 individual images make up this final photograph, and Opportunity captured them between May 13th and June 10th, 2018. On June 10th, a massive global dust storm enveloped Mars, and Opportunity’s time was up.
Opportunity’s final image is of Endeavour Crater, an impact crater at Meridiani Planum. The images were captured in sets of three, each one with a different filter. They’re all combined to create one colored panorama. But in the lower left corner a portion of the image is black and white. That’s because the dust storm overtook the rover before it could finish imaging with all three filters. It’s kind of eerie.
The labelled image below provides some context to Opportunity’s last work. Click on it to see a larger version with visible labels.
The rim of Endeavour Crater and Opportunity’s entrance point are at the center-top. Different types of rock formations are visible, as are some rover tracks and some parts of the rover protruding into the image.
This final photograph will be the exclamation point at the end of the mission. Opportunity’s corpse will be its own monument, trapped in time on the surface of Mars.
Over the coming decades, or even centuries or millennia, repeated dust storms and temperature swings will take their toll on the rover. We can’t be certain how long it will take, but the rover will eventually succumb to the Martian environment. Parts will break off, and eventually the rover will crumble, maybe becoming partially buried in the soil.
Eventually, someone will go and visit Opportunity.
There may be no scientific reason to do so, but the cultural prestige will be undeniable. Once we have established travel to Mars, and once we have a base there, someone will want to visit Opportunity.
Maybe humans won’t go. Maybe they’ll send another robotic explorer to visit its ancestor. And maybe Opportunity will have one final scientific role to fulfill. It may serve as an unwitting case study on the detrimental effects of the Martian environment itself. Who knows.
But the rover will be an irresistible beacon to some future Martian explorer. It’ll be like making a pilgrimage.