Mars InSight lander sends bittersweet goodbye selfie after 4 years of revealing the Red Planet’s mysteries
Update: Shortly after this article was published, NASA confirmed that it was unable to make contact with the Mars InSight lander (opens in new tab) on two consecutive attempts, ending the four-year mission on the Earth’s surface.
Twilight approaches NASA’s Mars InSight lander – a robotic seismology lab that has been studying the inner workings of the Red Planet since November 2018.
On Tuesday (Dec. 20), NASA announced in a statement (opens in new tab) that InSight failed to respond to routine communications from Earth. This is an alarming, though not surprising, sign that InSight could finally be dead after months of dwindling power.
“My assets are very low, so this may be the last photo I can send,” the official said InSight Twitter account (opens in new tab) tweeted on Dec. 19 along with a dust-covered selfie. “Don’t worry about me though: my time here has been both productive and serene. If I can keep talking to my mission team, I will – but I’ll be signing off here shortly. Thank you for staying with me.’
The solar panels that InSight relies on for power have been continuously inundated with dust and dirt over the past four years, gradually reducing the available energy. Things were so dire this summer that NASA shut down all of InSight’s science instruments, except the seismometer, so the ailing lander could focus as long as possible on its primary mission objective — listening for Marquakes to study the Martian interior.
NASA will officially terminate the InSight mission if the lander fails to respond to a second consecutive communications session. Thereafter, the operational team of 25 to 30 will complete the mission by ensuring that InSight’s four years of data is properly stored and made easily accessible to researchers around the world.
InSight landed on Mars’ Elysium Planitia — a flat, volcanically active plain that straddles Mars’ equator — on Nov. 26, 2018. Using a robotic arm, the lander deployed a small seismometer (a device used to measure seismic waves). measurements generated by earthquakes). and impacts) on the plain and then covered it with a domed heat and wind shield. Since then, InSight has detected more than 1,300 Martian quakes, the largest of them as much as magnitude 4.7 temblor on May 4, 2022.
Studying this seismic data has already helped scientists map the mysterious interior of Marsdetect the most massive meteor impact ever recorded in the solar system and show that volcanic activity on the Red Planet is possible lead to a hidden source of liquid water.
With four years of data to ponder, scientists around the world will likely use InSight’s insights to unravel the mysteries of Mars for many years to come. Goodbye, dear robot.
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