Mars Opportunity Rover Sends First Signal In Months, But NASA Says Something Else Is Responsible For The Transmissions

There was a brief moment of joy and excitement for those watching NASA’s Deep Space Network yesterday when – after five months of silence – the Mars Opportunity rover seemed to be wide awake and slowly sending data back to Earth. Motherboard was among the first to spot the surprising update and reached out to the communications office for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory but, unfortunately, the response was not the great news everyone is waiting for.

“Today [the Deep Space Network website] showed what looked like a signal from Opportunity,” NASA JPL said in a tweet. “As much as we’d like to say this was an #OppyPhoneHome moment, further investigation shows these signals were not an Opportunity transmission. Test data or false positives can make it look like a given spacecraft is active on [the website]. We miss @MarsRovers Opportunity, and would be overjoyed to share a verified signal with you. Our work to reestablish comms continues.”

In the most recent update posted to JPL’s Exploration Rovers website for the period between October 30 and November 7, NASA said that the dust storm has ended and that the atmospheric opacity above where Opportunity was last spotted has “dropped to a storm-free level of 0.8.” NASA has been sending recovery commands to the rover since its nap started over 150 days ago but – besides the false positive this week – there has been no signal from the drained Opportunity. A clear sky above the rover is great, but it doesn’t help if dust is still covering its solar panels or the battery has fallen below a certain level. All NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the rest of us can do is wait it out and hope that – like R2D2 in Star Wars: The Last Jedi – it suddenly springs back to life and continues its mission.

May the Force be with you, Opportunity.