The Mars rover Opportunity has been cleaned of heavy dust coating its solar panels, thanks to some strong winds blowing over the rim of Endeavour Crater.
A self-portrait of NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity taken in late March 2014 (right) shows that much of the dust on the rover's solar arrays has been removed since a similar portrait from January 2014 (left).
NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell Univ./Arizona State Univ.

In the before-and-after panoramas above — which show the landscape’s natural color — you can see the the 10-year-old rover’s fortuitous cleaning as recorded by Opportunity’s Pancam.

The “before” picture (left) was taken in early January, and the “after” picture (right) was captured late last month. The dramatic change occurred in mid-March, when strong winds swept over the rim of Endeavour crater and removed almost all of the accumulated dust.

Note the shadow of the rover’s main mast on the central solar panels; the rover can take a 360° mosaic of itself, but cannot see its own mast, which accounts for the dark star-shaped hole above the mast’s shadow in both pictures.

This is Opportunity’s sixth Maritain winter, and scientists estimate that after this dusting, the rover is as clean as it was during its first winter on the Red Planet back in 2004.

What does this mean for the rover? The amount of electricity available for the rover’s ongoing work has increased because the solar panels can harvest more sunlight to convert into energy. Solar-power production is now above 80% of its maximum, having jumped from 375 watt-hours per day in January to 620 watt-hours in mid-April.

Thus, Opportunity has been reinvigorated with the energy of a lively robot, ten years younger. This is good news to the science team and rover groupies alike (especially after saying goodbye to Spirit four years ago). This unexpected energy boost allows for the possibility of future science opportunities, in addition to continuing the already-under-way investigation of Murray Ridge, located on the western rim of Endeavor Crater.


Image of Patrick-McDonald


April 18, 2014 at 10:13 pm

Good news, but what tasks lie ahead?

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Tony Flanders

April 22, 2014 at 7:34 am

The most amazing thing about those pictures is that they illustrate -- lest we ever have doubted it -- that Mars's "surface" is in fact a thin layer of dust. Look how well camouflaged the rover is in the left-hand shot, where dust covers rover and ground alike, and how well it stands out once the dust has been removed from the panels but remains on the ground.

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July 8, 2014 at 10:18 am

I find the most incredible thing is after all these years ,it can still function so well! Being a senior I tell my friends that we may be old but keep on rolling.! What it may still find is hard to say.

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