The possibly doomed NASA Opportunity rover was spotted in an aerial image of Mars, the space agency has revealed. The team still hasn’t managed to communicate with the rover, which lost most of its power during a global dust storm that blotted out the Sun. Thanks to the NASA Reconnaissance Orbiter, however, the space agency has been able to visually see its rover for the first time in many weeks.
NASA has two rovers on Mars, Curiosity and Opportunity. Whereas Curiosity utilizes nuclear power, Opportunity is older and has solar panels to keep its batteries charged. Around the start of summer, NASA revealed the presence of a dust storm on Mars that soon enveloped the entire planet.
Though Curiosity was able to continue operating, Opportunity was in an unfortunate position and couldn’t get enough sunlight to keep its batteries charged. The rover eventually entered a low-power mode meant to conserve the remaining charge, hopefully helping it survive long enough to recharge and establish contact with its team on Earth.
The Mars dust storm started easing up a couple weeks back and NASA soon revealed that enough sunlight was reaching Opportunity for it to start recharging. However, the space agency has been unable to reestablish communications with its rover in the days since, revealing that it is giving the machine 45 days before assuming the worst.
Even if Opportunity does manage to communicate, NASA warns that it may not be the same rover that existed before the storm. The low power conditions may have resulted in a permanent reduction in battery capacity, potentially resulting in a situation where there’s not enough power to continue with missions or stay warm during the planet’s winter season.