Saturday, April 1, 2023

EarthSky | Mars dust sealed the fate of the InSight mission

Insight: 10-Sided Solar Panel Covered In Reddish Dust.
This photo shows a solar panel at InSight covered in dust on April 24, 2022. Due to decreased power levels, the mission will end science operations by this summer. It will be completely finished by the end of 2022. Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech.

InSight mission to close

Yesterday morning, we brought you some news from NASA’s InSight mission to Mars: the largest ever recorded marsquake. Then yesterday afternoon (May 17, 2022) NASA announced some more news. Looks like the end of Insight is near. The lander is from 2018. But now the dust has settled on its solar panel. And InSight is slowly losing power. Mission scientists said Tuesday they expect science operations to end this summer. The lander will be completely inactive by December.

Sadly, it looks like the end of NASA’s mission to Mars is near. The lander has been studying the subsurface of Mars since its landing in 2018. But now, as dust accumulates on its solar panels, InSight is slowly losing power. And as we know, Mars is a very Dusty place. Mission scientists said Tuesday they expect science operations to end this summer. The lander will be completely inactive by December.

as NASA tweeted on Tuesday:

and in another Tweet,

NASA also held a media teleconference update on InSight’s status on May 10, 2022.

Meanwhile, as previously reported by earth skyInSight continues to detect marsquakes – the equivalent of our earthquakes – with more than 1,300 recorded so far. The largest, magnitude 5.0, was detected on May 4, 2022.

accumulated dust

InSight’s responsibility is similar to that of some other landers and rovers; It uses solar energy. It relies on its solar panels to generate enough electricity to heat and maintain all of its equipment. In fact, it has performed quite well so far. But now, the dust on the solar panels has increased so much that they are slowly losing power. Watch the video below for more details:

At the start of the mission, the solar panels generated 5,000 watt-hours each Martian day, or sol. This is enough to run an electric oven for an hour and 40 minutes. But now, they are producing only 500 watt-hours per sol. That’s enough to power a single electric oven for just 10 minutes.

retiring robotic arm

Due to low power, the mission team will soon remove the robotic arm of the lander from service. It will be used for the last time at the end of this month. Previously, the team was able to use a hand to remove some dust from solar panels by “dodging sand into the air,” but that’s no longer an option.

The arm was designed primarily to deploy InSight’s seismometer and “Mole” heat probe. When the heat probe did not descend as deeply into the ground as expected – after several attempts – the mission team instead used a hand to bury it in the soil.

seasonal change

It’s a bad time of year for dust at InSight’s landing location, Elysium Planitia. In fact, the dust level will now continue to rise over the next few months. At this point, a more robust dust-cleaning event would be needed, such as a dust devil. Indeed, the Dust Devils helped clean the solar panels of both the Spirit and Opportunity rovers. The same could happen with InSight, but mission scientists think it’s unlikely.

As Bruce Bannert, InSight’s principal investigator at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), said:

We’re looking forward to cleaning up the dust like we’ve seen so many times with the Spirit and Opportunity rovers. It is still possible, but the energy is so low that our focus is making the most of the science we can still collect.

The Man Standing Near The Podium With The Nasa Logo Behind Him And The Screen Behind Him.
Bruce Bannert at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is the principal investigator for the InSight mission. Image via NASA/JPL.

Prioritizing Energy at Insight

So far, seismometers are being given priority from the point of view of science instruments. It still operates at various times of the day and night. This happens when the winds are weakest, making it easier to detect weak marsquakes.

marsquakes in abundance

During its mission, InSight has recorded more than 1,300 earthquakes. This is evidence that the planet is still geologically active beneath the surface. The largest earthquake ever detected has a magnitude of 5.0. This is a moderate earthquake on Earth, but it is impressive for Mars. After all, Mars lacks plate tectonics, the process that, on Earth, moves land plates around, forming mountains and causing most Earthly volcanoes and earthquakes.

The previous largest earthquake ever recorded by InSight measured 4.2, which is very light by earthly standards.

The Graph With Sudden High Zigzag Lines Tends To Drop Back Down Over Time.
An earthquake of magnitude 5.0 was detected by InSight on May 4, 2022. Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech.
The Luminous Dome Is Seated On Red Clay With A Robotic Arm On Top.
The seismometer, located inside the wind and thermal shield dome, is now the primary instrument used in the final days of the mission. Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech.

in another nasa Tweet,

InSight’s mission has two main goals: to understand the formation and evolution of terrestrial planets through investigations of the internal structure and processes of Mars, and to determine the current level of tectonic activity and meteorite impact rates on Mars.

The mission has transformed our understanding of Mars’ interior geology like never before. According to Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s Department of Planetary Science:

InSight has changed our understanding of the interiors of rocky planets and set the stage for future missions. We can apply what we learned about the internal structure of Mars to Earth, the Moon, Venus, and even the rocky planets in other solar systems.

Bottom line: NASA announced Tuesday that it is discontinuing the InSight lander mission to Mars due to increased dust on its solar panels. Science operations will end this summer, with the full mission closing in until this winter.

Read more about the InSight mission

via nasa


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