NASA officials announced at a press conference today that the InSight lander will likely stop on Mars in late 2022, after three years of scientific work on the surface of the Red Planet.
InSight arrived at Mars in November 2018, and during its stay on Mars, it collected impressive data about the planet’s structure and seismic events emanating from its interior. The probe recently discovered the largest earthquake to date and the largest ever in another world: a size 5 event† (Earthquakes of 5.0 on the Richter scale are often felt on Earth and usually cause minor damage; the previous largest earthquake on Mars was about 10 times smaller than that).
But the lander is now full of dust that has settled on its solar panels, hampering its ability to absorb light and generate energy. The InSight team has come up with a file The McGuyver-esque way to get rid of some of that dust: By scraping Martian soil and dropping it on dust, they were able to marginally clean the plates. This maneuver has been successfully performed six times, said Cathia Zamora Garcia, deputy project manager at InSight.
But the reality of InSight mode is that it is in a hostile environment; Nothing lasts forever, and the probe appears doomed to end its science operations this summer and end all operations by the end of the year, the InSight team estimates.
“One of InSight’s legacy is that it really proves seismology technology for planetary sciences,” said Bruce Banerdt, Principal Investigator at InSight, at the press conference. “For the first time in history, we have been able to map the interior of Mars.”
In his tenure, the probe has March 1313 revealedEarthquakes so far† When InSight began its science, it was able to run for about 5,000 watt-hours per Martian day (Mars day); Now, engulfed in Martian dust, the lander can manage just 500 watt-hours per Martian day. Zamora Garcia said the reduction is equivalent to going from running an electric oven for an hour and 40 minutes a day on the floor to just about 10 minutes a day.
Seismic measurements are essential to understanding the structure and evolution of rocky worlds such as Earth, Mars, and Venus. On Earth, many seismic events are caused by the movement of tectonic plates, but some are caused by sources in the crust or convection in the mantle, the molten region below the crust. Mars has no plate tectonics, so the events are quite recent, although seismometers can also pick up motions from collision events.
InSight has been commissioned (and delivered) to give humanity the best look yet at Mars’ geological and seismic systems. InSight detected The thickness and composition of Mars’ crust, as well as details of the planet’s atmosphere and core. But the probe also had its own struggle. Previous dust storms Force probe into safe mode, and InSight ‘Mole’ – a heat probe that was supposed to drill into the surface of Mars – is stuck in the disturbing symmetry of the Martian floor. The Mole left in January 2021†
Scientific operations may be over by mid-July, Zamora Garcia said, but that InSight’s fate ultimately boils down to (or infuriates) the climate on Mars. “It has exceeded our expectations at almost every turn on Mars,” Banerdt said. “It might take longer than that.”
A crippling dust storm could destroy the probe faster, or a clamshell dust demon could sweep accumulated dust from the lander’s solar panels, providing a massive power boost. “We’re working on getting as much as possible, but we just need to see what Mars and Insight can offer us,” Bannerdt said.
Barring any Martian wonder, the hypersensitive InSight lander is in its final stages. For both its struggles and its failures, the probe has provided a set of data about the buried secrets of rocky worlds beyond our own. So thank you, InSight, for all your unspoken perseverance.
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