Here's What NASA's Opportunity Rover Saw Before 'Lights Out'

This annotated image is a cropped version of the last 360-degree panorama taken by the Opportunity rover's Pancam from May 13 through June 10, 2018. This annotated view is presented in false color to make some differences between materials easier to see. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/ASU)

A set of newly released photos shows what NASA's Mars rover Opportunity was looking at just before the killer dust storm hit.

That storm boiled up in May 2018 and engulfed Opportunity shortly thereafter. The solar-powered robot couldn't get enough sunlight to recharge its batteries, and it went silent on June 10. NASA tried gamely to revive the long-lived Oppy but had no luck, finally declaring the rover dead last month.

As the sky darkened around it last spring, Opportunity snapped many photos of its environs — Perseverance Valley, on the rim of the 14-mile-wide (22 kilometers) Endeavour Crater — using its panoramic camera.

Related: Postcards from Mars: Amazing Photos by Opportunity & Spirit

Mission team members have now stitched together 354 of these images, taken from May 13 through June 10, into a gorgeous panorama of the rover's final resting place.

"This final panorama embodies what made our Opportunity rover such a remarkable mission of exploration and discovery," Opportunity project manager John Callas, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said in a statement Tuesday (March 12).

"To the right of center, you can see the rim of Endeavor Crater rising in the distance," he added. "Just to the left of that, rover tracks begin their descent from over the horizon and weave their way down to geologic features that our scientists wanted to examine up close. And to the far right and left are the bottom of Perseverance Valley and the floor of Endeavour Crater, pristine and unexplored, waiting for visits from future explorers."

The panorama is very large and zoomable; you can get the full effect via the mission team here.

Also on Tuesday, the mission team released the very last photos Opportunity ever took — two blurry, black-and-white thumbnails from June 10 showing a tiny, faint sun in a dark and dusty sky. 

These two thumbnails, with the faint sun near the middle of each, are the last images NASA's Opportunity rover took on Mars as a dust storm darkened the sky. Opportunity took the photos on June 10, 2018. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/ASU)

About 3 minutes earlier, Oppy had taken another photo of the dark sky, this image even noisier than the two thumbnails. But Opportunity beamed this super-speckly shot home after it sent the two thumbnails; indeed, the noisy pic was the last piece of data that Opportunity ever transmitted, NASA officials said. As the black bar at the bottom of the frame shows, the rover went dark before it could send the entire image (and before it could send the full-frame versions of the two thumbnails).

Opportunity and its twin, Spirit, landed a few weeks apart in January 2004. Together, the two robots began a planned 90-Earth-day hunt for signs of liquid water activity. They found a great deal of such evidence, confirming that the Red Planet was much wetter, and potentially habitable, in the ancient past.

Taken on June 10, 2018, this noisy, incomplete image was the last data NASA's Opportunity rover sent back from Mars. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/ASU)

Spirit and Opportunity both far outlasted their warranties. Spirit wasn't declared dead until 2011, and Opportunity was still going strong before the dust storm hit. No vehicle, crewed or robotic, has ever traveled farther on the surface of another world than Opportunity, whose odometer is forever frozen at 28.06 miles (45.16 kilometers).

And it took quite a storm to knock Oppy out; the maelstrom eventually grew to encircle the entire planet. 

Mike Wall's book about the search for alien life, "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated byKarl Tate), is out now. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter@Spacedotcom or Facebook.

Mike Wall Senior Writer
Michael was a science writer for the Idaho National Laboratory and has been an intern at, The Salinas Californian newspaper, and the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. He has also worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz.