NASA’s InSight Mars mission is coming to a close.
The US space agency announced earlier this month that dust covering the Mars InSight lander’s solar panels meant the spacecraft would soon be forced to cease science operations.
The InSight spacecraft landed on Mars in November 2018 to study seismic activity on the Red Planet and NASA has just shared a side-by-side image of a selfie taken on day 10 of the mission alongside the last image taken by InSight.
InSight’s solar panels are covered in Martian dust
After more than three years of operations, NASA expects InSight to be inoperable by December due to the fact it can’t generate enough power through its solar panels. The lander’s solar panels, which initially produced 5,000 watt-hours of power each day, now only generate 500 watt-hours.
Before losing more solar energy, I took some time to take in my surroundings and snapped my final selfie before I rest my arm and camera permanently in the stowed position.
– NASA InSight (@NASAinSight) May 24, 2022
Previous solar-powered NASA Mars missions have been aided by whirlwinds in the past. Both the Spirit and Opportunity rovers, for example, had dust cleared off their solar panels, allowing them to operate for a little longer. This hasn’t happened for InSight, and it continues to collect dust, leading to progressively less capacity for generating solar power.
“If just 25 percent of InSight’s panels were swept clean by the wind, the lander would gain about 1,000 watt-hours per sol — enough to continue collecting science,” NASA wrote in a recent post. “However, at the current rate power is declining, InSight’s non-seismic instruments will rarely be turned on after the end of May.”
The spacecraft’s robotic arm has been used to remove dust in the past, but the dust simply collects too quickly for the robotic arm to keep up without using up vital energy, according to NASA.
NASA’s InSight detected more than 1,300 marsquakes
Still, InSight actually outlived its original design lifetime of two years and produced a great number of readings in the process, meaning the mission has been a great success. It allowed scientists to realize that Mars’ core is much smaller than once thought.
The lander’s seismic detection instruments have helped NASA scientists to learn a great deal about the inner structure of Mars. On May 4, for example, the InSight team detected the largest marsquake to datewith a magnitude 5 reading. The mission has detected more than 1,300 marsquakes in total.
The team explained that the lander’s robotic arm will now be put into a stowed position to help conserve energy for the seismometer for a little longer. Just before that happens, however, the team took one last selfie of InSight, showing the amount of red dust that has collected on its solar panels since it reached the Red Planet. One day, humans may reach its current location and retrieve the historic spacecraft for future generations to admire.