NASA’s Mars Opportunity rover has been sitting still on Mars since June. It was then that a massive dust storm began to swallow up the planet, cutting of the sunlight to the rover’s solar panels and forcing it to go dormant. The Opportunity team has been waiting patiently for the rover to wake back up ever since, and when a signal identified as coming from Opportunity popped up on NASA’s Deep Space Network on Thursday it got a lot of people very excited.
Unfortunately, the signal, whatever it was, didn’t actually come from the troubled robot. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory quickly addressed the supposed communication, noting that “further investigation” revealed the signals weren’t actually from Opportunity at all.
The Deep Space Network is a live feed of NASA’s communications with its various spacecraft, probes, and rovers. When they show up on the publicly-available list of signals they are labeled with the name of whatever machine was responsible for the signal. You can imagine everyone’s excitement when the following signal popped up:
If nothing else, it was at least hope that Opportunity was indeed still alive. Its handlers had been hoping that the now-clear skies and windy season on Mars would dust off the rover’s solar panels and allow it to phone home. Then, JPL broke the bad news:
But if it wasn’t Opportunity, then what was the signal? JPL offers a somewhat vague explanation:
Well that’s a bummer. Still, NASA isn’t giving up hope that the rover will come back to life. Originally designed to last only a few months, it’s spent nearly a decade and a half exploring the Red Planet and may continue to do so if it can just snap out of its funk. We’ll be keeping our fingers crossed.