Science

NASA’s Mars InSight lander takes dusty ‘last selfie’ amid power cut

NASA’s InSight lander is completely covered in a thick layer of Martian dust in its latest selfie, which the agency says is likely to be the last of the mission.

The solar-powered InSight lander is operating at about a tenth of its 5,000-watt-hour landing power, the agency said at a May 17 news conference, and the new image shows how much regolith has accumulated over the past three years. one and a half earth years. InSight, a Marsquake search lander, landed on the surface in 2018 to better understand the interior of Mars. Although the data collected by the mission will always be available, the spacecraft is curtailing scientific activities in order to conserve energy as best as possible.

New image released (will open in a new tab) Monday (May 23) shows regolith all over InSight in a selfie taken on April 24, Sol 1211 (Martian day) of the mission.

On the subject: NASA’s InSight lander detects the strongest earthquake on Mars

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These before and after images show NASA’s InSight Mars Lander just after it landed in 2018 (left) and in May 2022, when dust on its solar arrays reduced its power to a tenth of what it was at the start of the mission. . (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

However, the agency says InSight is likely to have too little power later this year to carry out new scientific research. But the scientific value of the mission is confirmed by the fact that the agency has expanded its work; the main mission of the lander lasted one Martian year, or nearly two Earth years.

InSight did not include an optional dust clearing system, instead relying on passing dust swirls or strong breezes to clear the lander. However, in 2021, engineers were able to remove some of the dust by pouring sand over the lander and letting the wind blow that sand across the panel.

After probably taking one last selfie, the lander will assume a “retirement pose,” an inverted V-shape. The quake tracker will remain operational for some time but is expected to be turned off by the end of the summer.

However, InSight may be lucky up to this point. Its power may last a little longer than expected, or the passing wind may finally blow some of the dust away and allow the lander to produce a bit more science data later this year.

“It has exceeded our expectations at almost every turn on Mars, and so it may actually last longer,” Bruce Banerdt, principal investigator for NASA’s Jet Propulsion mission, told reporters during a May 17 press conference.

Follow Elizabeth Howell on Twitter @howellspace. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (will open in a new tab) and on facebook (will open in a new tab).

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