The mars exploration missions launched in 2003, successfully landing two rovers, spirit and opportunity on the red planet.
The mission’s objective was to search for clues to past water activity on Mars. The mission also included three previous landers: the two Viking program landers in 1976 and Mars Pathfinder probe in 1997.
Both rovers were given an expected lifespan of just 90 days due to the notorious dust storms present on the surface. Spirit lasted an incredible 7 years, surviving until 2010, yet mysteriously, Opportunity is still functioning to this day.
This is due to several events which have become known as cleaning events, which over that last 14 years, have been mysteriously cleaning the rovers solar panels. Designed to go offline during the night to save energy, it is during these hours that something, or someone has been helping to keep our rovers running.
Opportunity has since been given 5 mission extensions, which it has successfully completed.
In July 2007, during the fourth mission extension, severe Martian dust storms blocked sunlight to the rover and threatened the ability of the crafts survival. However, when the dust storms lifted, they revealed that something had cleaned the rover of nearly all debris.
On May 1, 2009, during its fifth mission extension, Spirit became stuck in the soft soils of Mars.
After nearly nine months of attempts to get the rover back on track, including test rovers on Earth, NASA announced on January 26, 2010 that Spirit was being re- tasked as a stationary science platform.
Strangely it seems, because the rover was not moving, it missed subsequent cleaning events, leading NASA to lose contact shortly after.
Most recently, Opportunity has seen a surge in energy after a “cleaning event” in March, the Martian month coincidentally, resulting in a power boost of 70 percent when compared with power levels at the start of this year.
And now mission scientists have released a self-portrait photo of the Mars rover. When compared with the dust coverage at its worst, the difference is nothing short of dramatic. Having just survived its sixth Mars winter, thanks to the most recent cleaning event.
Opportunity now has solar panels that are as dust free as they were when they entered the Martian atmosphere.
Just what exactly has been cleaning the rovers on mars? Covert astronauts? Or maybe its Aliens? Whatever it is, We may never know..