Earlier today, an unofficial bot tracking NASA Deep Space Network activity published a tweet stating that data was being transmitted by the Opportunity rover, which fell silent during a global dust storm on Mars this past summer. The tweet briefly raised hope that the rover had recharged and made contact, but NASA has some bad news.
The tweet revealed a mere 11b/s data transmission from Opportunity over NASA’s space network, indicating that the rover had finally made contact after five long months of silence. The connection wouldn’t be unlikely — Mars is currently undergoing a windy season and NASA hopes the winds will blow potential dust off Opportunity’s solar panels.
It was a hopeful tweet, but ultimately not a valid one. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory has released a statement saying the data revealed by the tweet was not from Opportunity. “As must as we’d like to say this was an #OppyPhoneHome moment,” JPL said in a tweet, “further investigation shows these signals were not an Opportunity transmission.”
The team says that either false positives or test data may be blamed for the mistake. The space agency continues to work on restoring a connection, however, and has previously said that it will reassess the situation in January 2019.
The Opportunity rover, which is older than its sibling Curiosity, recharges its batteries using solar panels. When a massive dust storm hit Mars early this past summer, hazy dust in the atmosphere blotted out the sun, leaving Opportunity unable to recharge.
When the battery power reserves fell low, Opportunity put itself into a hibernation state designed to maintain its most critical functions. The plan was that after enough sunlight returned, Opportunity’s solar panels would recharge the batteries and the critical functions sustained in hibernation would wake the rover back up.
Upon waking, Opportunity would make connection with Earth and start the process of restoring itself for its mission. Unfortunately, experts have been unable to make any contact with the rover and things are looking increasingly grim. The space agency has not given up hope on the rover, but has warned that it may be lost for good.