Nasa declared the 15-year mission of the veteran Mars rover Opportunity finally over on Wednesday, crediting the robot as having “transformed our understanding of our planet”.
The golf buggy-sized vehicle last made contact with Earth eight months ago, after being caught in a global dust storm.
Announcing the mission’s end, Thomas Zurbuchen, the associate administrator of the Science Mission Directorate at Nasa, said the rover had “remained silent” after a last-ditch effort to contact Opportunity on Tuesday.
Despite the loss, the mood at the press conference at Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, was one of celebration on Wednesday.
“I’m standing here with a sense of deep appreciation and gratitude to declare the Opportunity mission as complete,” Zurbuchen said.
“It transformed our understanding of our planet, everything we do and think about in our planetary neighborhood with Mars and elsewhere relates to the research from that and the engineering breakthroughs that came from that.”
Opportunity landed on Mars in January 2004 shortly after its twin – a rover called Spirit. Together, the pair were part of Nasa’s Mars Exploration Rover programme. However, the Spirit got stuck in soil in 2009 and was declared defunct in 2011.
By contrast, Opportunity has continued to trundle over the surface of Mars and send back data to Earth, acting as a sort of remote geologist.
John Callas, Mars Exploration Rover project manager, at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said that epic journey had been due to a “phenomenal” effort and had “greatly expanded our understanding of the red planet”.
Over the 15 years it has spent on Mars, Opportunity has clocked up more than 45km (28 miles) – despite being designed to travel only 1,006 metres and last 90 Martian days.
“We had expected that dust falling out of the air would accumulate on the solar rays and eventually choke off power,” Callas said.
“What we didn’t expect was that wind would come along periodically and blow the dust off the arrays.
“It allowed us to survive not just the first winter, but all the winters we experienced on Mars.”
Opportunity was finally done in by a “historic” dust storm, said Abigail Fraeman, MER deputy project scientist. Fraeman said the storm had turned the sky so dark that Opportunity “couldn’t see the sun and the solar panels couldn’t recharge the battery”.
During its mission, the rover found tiny iron-rich spheres nicknamed “blueberries” at the crater that suggested a wet past, while its analyses of clay minerals near the Endeavour crater confirmed parts of Mars were once covered in neutral water, and could have been a habitable environment. It also came across the first meteorite ever to be discovered on another planet. In addition, the rover has sent back stunning images, including capturing a Martian “dust devil” twisting across the planet’s surface and panoramic shots that provided breathtaking views of Martian craters.
Another aspect of Opportunity’s legacy is the number of people who were inspired to pursue careers in science through following the rover’s trek, Fraeman said.
“There really are hundreds if not thousands of students who, just like me, witnessed these rovers and followed along their mission, from the images released to the public over the last 15 years and then because of that went on to pursue careers in science.”
“It has been a fantastically successful mission which has completely outlived its shelf life,” said Professor Andrew Coates, a planetary scientist at University College London’s Mullard Space Science Laboratory.
“One of those core things about Opportunity was it landed in this crater which was in sight of sedimentary types of rocks and that was the first time that sort of thing had been seen on Mars,” said Coates. “People compared it at the time to an interplanetary hole in one.”
Professor John Bridges from the University of Leicester, who is part of the team working on Nasa’s continuing Curiosity rover project and the European Space Agency’s ExoMars mission, said Opportunity had a fantastic roll call of achievements. He added that with its twin the rover had been key in changing the idea of Mars from being a lump of basalt in space to having a very different geological history, showing the importance of lakes and other features.
“It really sort of [turned] upside down our view of Mars and how it has evolved,” he said. “It was showing us what the Mars crust is made of.”
Coates, who is also lead scientist for the panoramic camera instrument on the ExoMars rover – recently named Rosalind Franklin – which is set to be launched in 2020, said the discoveries of Opportunity, and later the Curiosity rover, have been important for the development of new missions.
“The next step now of course is to drill and look for signs of life, and that is exactly what we are doing with the ExoMars rover, drilling up to 2 metres underneath the surface,” he said.
The final attempt at communication with Opportunity on Tuesday night was, it seems, an emotional affair. Dr Tanya Harrison, a planetary scientist who worked on the mission, tweeted: “There were tears. There were hugs. There were memories and laughs shared.”
Mike Seibert, who was also part of the team, paid tribute to the rover nicknamed “Oppy”, saying “Goodbye old friend” and noting that the rover was the longest lasting surface mission yet.
Coates said Opportunity’s demise was bittersweet. “It is a matter of both celebration for what it was able to achieve and in the broad context of Mars exploration, but also tinged with sadness, losing an old friend.”
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010
Cardinal George Pell’s Appeal Denied; Convictions On Sex Abuse Will Stand
MELBOURNE, Australia — An Australian court has confirmed convictions against the most superior Catholic to be found condemned of child sex abuse.
The Victoria state Court of Appeal by a 2-1 majority ruling published Wednesday denied Cardinal George Pell’s appeal of the unanimous verdicts a jury issued in December finding Pope Francis’ former finance minister condemned of molesting two 13-year-old choirboys in Melbourne’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral in 1996 and 1997.
At the time, Pell had just become archbishop of Australia’s second-largest city and had established an international-first reimbursement method for victims of clergical sexual abuse.
His lawyers are predicted to appeal the decision in the High Court, Australia’s final arbitrator.
Attorney Cites Trump’s Rhetoric In National Anthem Attack On Montana Teenager
MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) — The attorney for a Montana man accused of throwing a 13-year-old boy to the ground at a rodeo because the teenager didn’t remove his hat during the national anthem says his client believes he was acting on an order from President Trump.
Attorney Lance Jasper told the Missoulian newspaper that the president’s “rhetoric” contributed to 39-year-old Curt Brockway’s disposition when he grabbed the boy by the throat and slammed him to the ground, fracturing his skull at the Mineral County Fairgrounds on Saturday.
Jasper said Brockway is an Army veteran who believes he was acting on an order by his commander in chief. He adds that Brockway’s decision-making has been affected by a brain injury he suffered in a vehicle crash.
Brockway is charged with felony assault on a minor.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: ‘I am very much alive’
The comments to NPR from Ginsburg, 86 — who earlier this year took a break from the court after undergoing cancer surgery — come amid concerns from progressives that her death or retirement would give President Donald Trump an opportunity to replace a reliably liberal seat on the court with a conservative justice. Ginsburg has sought in recent days to signal that her health is stable and she has no plans to step down with the court facing major issues in its next session on immigration, gun control, gay rights and possibly abortion.
During Ginsburg’s recent surgery, doctors removed from her left lung two cancerous nodules, which were found during scans taken after the justice sustained three fractured ribs in a fall last November. In the interview with NPR, published Wednesday, Ginsburg made reference to the late Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Kentucky, who suggested in 2009 that she would soon die from the pancreatic cancer she had been diagnosed with.
“There was a senator — I think it was after the pancreatic cancer — who announced with great glee that I was going to be dead within six months. That senator — whose name I’ve forgotten — is now himself dead. And I am very much alive,” Ginsburg said.
In the NPR interview, Ginsburg also weighed in on an idea circulating among some Democrats to increase the number of justices on the court should a Democrat be elected president, saying she disagreed.
“Well, if anything, it would make the court appear partisan. It would be that one side saying, ‘when we’re in power, it was only to enlarge the number of judges so we will have more people who will vote the way we want them to,'” she said. “So I am not at all in favor of that solution to what I see as a temporary situation.”
Ginsburg’s health has become the subject of much attention in recent years. In November 2014, she underwent a heart procedure to have a stent placed in her right coronary artery, and in 2009, she was treated for early stages of pancreatic cancer.
In 1999, just six years after being sworn in as an associate justice, she successfully underwent surgery to treat colon cancer.
Last July, Ginsburg said she hopes to stay on the bench past 2020. On Tuesday, she revealed that she traveled with the late Justice John Paul Stevens “in the last week of his life” to Lisbon, Portugal, for a conference where the two justices attended meetings, visited museums, vineyards and castles.
“His conversation was engaging, his memory amazing,” she said on Tuesday. As they were leaving the US ambassador’s residence during their last evening in Lisbon, Ginsburg told Stevens, “My dream is to remain on the court as long as you did.”
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