173 Days…

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Today is the 173rd day since Opportunity fell silent.

Despite the best efforts of the MER team and other teams of scientists at NASA and around the world, no bleep, beep or electronic cheep has been heard from our rover, which fell silent on June 10th as a huge dust storm enveloped most of Mars, blotting the Sun out of Opportunity’s sky and robbing her of her power – so after transmitting one last, incomplete image (above) she fell into a deep sleep. 173 days later she is still sleeping, halfway down Perseverance Valley. And we miss her.

While Opportunity has slept, inevitably the attention of the space media has moved on to other missions and other planets, Opportunity’s plight all but forgotten. The high-profile commentators, reporters and bloggers who waxed lyrical about how much they loved Opportunity when it seemed NASA was ready to give up on her have fallen silent, leaving only a handful of us amateurs and enthusiasts actively supporting Opportunity and her team online, making sure the public don’t forget about her. They don’t Share our stories or reTweet our posts on Twitter – but no change there; I realised a long time ago that blogs like this one aren’t cool enough for them. 🙂

Despite the lack of a phone call from Opportunity it has been a busy old week on Mars. The InSight lander touched down safely on Elysium Planitia late Monday, and the first image of the landing site – specially chosen to be as flat, safe and boring as possible – was released online to the waiting world…

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No, the lander wasn’t attacked by flies; those dark splotches are dust grains and clods on the clear lens cap protecting the camera lens. An image taken soon after was rather cleaner…

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InSight isn’t a sightseeing mission, so we won’t be seeing lots of “pretty pictures” from it. InSight’s mission is to study the interior of Mars, not its rocky, dust dune-covered surface, so most of the graphics produced by the InSight team will be charts, graphs and data plots, not beautiful panoramic portraits of the landscape. I’m sure we’ll see some views of the surface of Mars around the lander, but if you’re expecting dozens or even hundreds of new images to be posted online, like we’ve been spoiled with by the MER and MSL teams, you’re in for a disappointment I’m afraid.

Which is why it’s more important than ever that Opportunity wakes up and resumes her travels. For the past fourteen – almost fifteen – years she has shown us Mars ass we would see it if we were there, crumping across its dusty surface. I’ve followed her literally every step of the way and I’ve got used to seeing her spot, head for and then roll over one new horizon after another, and I really miss seeing what she’s seeing.

So to keep myself – and maybe some of you – going, here’s a selection of some of my favourite Oppy images posted on this blog over the past few years. Some are raw images, some are processed and colourised, others still are artistic creations. I hope you like some of them. If you, then do me a favour? On the next clear night where you live, pull on a jacket, go outside and find Mars in the sky – and tell Opportunity to wake up…! 🙂

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Good news..!

No, not THAT news! NASA hasn’t heard from Opportunity – but it has given the MER team the go-ahead to keep actively trying to make contact with the rover  until January, when they will review things again…

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This means that when the dust devils start whirling and twirling inside Endeavour, and winds start to whip up its slopes, the MER team will be there to takew advantage of it, shouting out Oppy’s name from Earth’s doorstep and urging her to “phone home” rather than just sitting inside with the TV on hoping to hear a plaintive call from outside…

This is a big deal, it really is. It means there is now a much better chance of cintact being re-established with Opportunity. So, good luck to all the MER team who have already worked so hard to get to this place – and best wishes to them as they continue their efforts.

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141 Days

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It’s now been 141 days since the MER team heard from Opportunity. That’s a long time, and I think it’s fair to say that even the most optimistic of rover fans is now getting worried. It doesn’t help that stories keep appearing in the media reporting that NASA is either about to give up on, or has already given up on waking the lost rover and will soon stop forlornly shouting Opportunity’s name from Earth’s front doorstep and go back inside, shut the door behind them, put the TV on and just hope to hear a scratching sound from outside at some point over the next few months.

To be honest, I’ve lost track of what’s actually going on, and wish someone, somewhere, would issue a press release clarifying just what is going on.

Come on Oppy… give us a call. We miss you.

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Still no word…

It’s now been 136 days since contact was lost with Opportunity. The MER team are working hard to try and re-establish contact, and we all wish them well.

Come on Oppy… wake up… we miss you…

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Views…

By my reckoning – and I haven’t calculated this manually, with a calendar; I’m using an app to work it out for me – it’s now 113 days since we last heard from Opportunity on June 10th. 113 days. That’s a long time. I’m still hopeful we’ll hear from Opportunity, and that she’ll carry on with her mission, but I’d be lying if I said that I was as hopeful as I was 100 days ago, or even a couple of weeks ago. No, not giving up, bit every day we don’t hear from her is more worrying.

After seeing and working with the new HiRISE image of Opportunity that was treleased the other day (which led to lots of breathless media reports of how NASA had “found the lost Mars rover”… sigh… she wasn’t lost, you numpties, just silent – I thought it would be interesting to ferret out some of the older HiRISE images of Opportunity and process those too – so here are some more views of Opportunity. I’m not going to put dates and locations with them, I just want them to serve as a small gallery of views of our sleeping rover.

I hope you enjoy seeing her again.

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THERE she is…!!

No, no… don’t get your hopes up. We haven’t heard from Opportunity. We haven’t heard a peep, bleep, churp or burp from her for 109 days, since she fell silent on June 10th. The MER team is still pinging her and listening for a reply, but so far nothing.

So why the “THERE she is!!” title of this post?

Because the HiRISE camera onboard the MRO probe orbiting Mars has taken a new image of the rim of Endeavour Crater, and it shows Opportunity perched halfway down Perseverance Valley – right where she was when we last heard from her.

I was delighted to see this image yesterday, and to get to work on processing it too. Niot just because a new HiRISE image of Opportunity was long, long overdue – the last one was taken on Valentine’s Day 2014 I think – but because it was just lovely to see Opportunity again. Of course, there was no risk she wouldn’t be there – it’s not as if the dust storm would have blown her over, like Matt Damon in The Martian, and the likelyhood of her being carried away by Jawas for sale to some moisture farmers down in Hellas is rather small – but just seeing her again was reassuring. Hopefully it will raise interest in Opportunity again amongst the high profile reporters, journalists and commentators who cover space stories on social media; it seems to have flagged after the recent Twitter storm, their attention has moved onto other stories.

Anyway, here’s a link to the HiRISE image release from yesterday

And here’s one of the images released, with Opportunity’s position highlighted…

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Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona 

Can you see her there? That little dot within the valley – that’s Opportunity. She’s been on Mars since January 2004, and now she’s facing her greatest challenge yet. But there she is.

When I saw that image yesterday my first thought – with a lump in my throat – was: Come on, Little One, wake up and talk to us…

My second thought was: let me at those images

For quite a few years now I’ve used a NASA program – a free download – called HiView to zoom in on the highest resolution HiRISE images, so I fired that up and imported the HiRISE images into it so I could first isolate Opportunity, make her look more obvious against the landscape, and then add a bit oif “martian colour” to the scene. Here’s what I was able to do…

All images credit: Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona /additional processing Stuart Atkinson

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And here’s my best effort so far…

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Let’s take a closer look…

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I really hope that image isn’t showing a dead rover. I really hope that’s a portrait of a sleeping rover, a rover that is going to wake up soon, phone home, and soon after be on her way again.

I guess we’ll have to wait and see…

That’s it for this update, but I’d like to just take a moment to thank all of you who take the time and trouble to read this blog – regularly or just now and again – and look at my images. I’ve been writing this blog for almost a decade now, much longer than I expected to! It’s a labour of love. I don’t write it to get retweets on Twitter or Likes or Shares on Facebook; I write it because I am a fan and supporter of the mission, and because I want to share my enthusiasm for, and love of, Opportunity’s adventures and discoveries during her epic trek across Mars with others. This blog isn’t popular or well-known “out there”. Even though “RtE” is now one of the longest-running MER-related blogs going, with the notable exception of AJS Rayl, who has supported my efforts for years, those high profile reporters and social media commentators pay it no attention at all, never Retweet or Share the things I write or the images I post here. (I think it’s not serious or technical enough for them…!) That’s ok, I don’t write it for them; I write it for myself and for you, and so that, in years to come, people who weren’t around when Opportunity was rolling around Mars – climbing hills, exploring craters and crossing deserts – will know how much she meant to at least some of us, and get a sense of the amazing things she and her team achieved. Anyway, I just wanted to say thank you to all of you who do read these posts. I appreciate it. 🙂

 

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Here we go…

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Well, it looks like the infamous 45 Days have started… For the next month and a half the MER team will be calling out to Opportunity regularly, shouting at her to WAKE UP and phone home. Fingers crossed she hears them, puts a coin in the slot and calls Earth to let us all know she’s ok.

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