This is the last time we’ll see a selfie from NASA’s InSight lander on Mars. And based on the amount of dust covering the landing craft’s solar panels, it’s easy to see why. (NASA, Jet Propulsion Laboratory – Caltech)
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Pasadena, CA – This is the last time we’ll see a selfie from NASA’s Insight probe on Mars. And based on the amount of dust covering the landing craft’s solar panels, it’s easy to see why.
The stationary spacecraft captured the image on April 24 with its robotic arm, which will soon be placed in its final resting position, dubbed “Retirement Mode,” this month. In order to take a selfie, the arm would have to be moved several times and that would no longer be possible.
“Before losing even more solar energy, I took some time to take in my surroundings and took the last selfie before resting my arm permanently with the camera in the stowed position,” reports InSight chirp Tuesday.
Due to dwindling energy supplies, the mission will stop scientific work until the end of late summer. Since landing in November 2018, it has revealed the mysterious interior of Mars.
InSight’s solar panels are increasingly covered in red Martian dust, despite the mission team’s creative efforts on Earth. This accumulation will only get worse as Mars enters winter now, when more dust will rise into the atmosphere.
These suspended particles reduce the sunlight available to charge the solar panels that power InSight, which is currently on an extended mission expected to last through December. The mission has achieved its primary objectives after the first two years on the Martian surface.
The latest selfie shows the lander covered in much more dust than previous selfies in December 2018 and April 2019.
The lander entered safe mode on May 7 when its power levels dropped, causing it to halt all but essential functions. The team expects this to become more common in the future as dust levels increase.
The stationary lander can only collect about a tenth of its available energy supply after landing on Mars in November 2018. When InSight first landed on Mars, it was able to produce about 5,000 watt-hours per day, which is about what it used to need to run an electric furnace for 1 hour and 40 minutes.
Now the probe produces 500 watts per day, which is enough to power an electric oven for just 10 minutes. When 25% of the solar panels are cleaned, InSight sees enough energy to continue operating. The spacecraft has seen several dust devils or tornadoes, but none of them were close enough to remove the solar panels.
“We were hoping to clear dust, as we’ve seen multiple times for the Spirit and Opportunity spacecraft,” Bruce Banerdt, InSight principal investigator at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a statement. “It’s still possible, but the power is low enough that we’re focused on making the most of the science we can still gather.”
By the end of the summer, the team will turn off the seismometer, end science operations, and monitor the energy levels remaining on the probe. The InSight mission ends at the end of the year.
However, the InSight team will continue to listen to any possible communications from the spacecraft and determine if it can be powered back on.
Discover the highly sensitive seismometer, called the seismic experiment of the inner structure More than 1300 swamps from hundreds and thousands of kilometers away. Insight Discover the biggest yet, a power of 5, on May 4th.
“Even as we near the end of our mission, Mars still gives us some really amazing things to see,” Banerdt said.
Data collected by InSight so far Discover new details about the unknown core, inner layers and crust of Mars. It also recorded weather data and analyzed the remnants of the magnetic field that once existed on Mars.
InSight’s constant flow of data to scientists on Earth will stop when solar cells can’t generate enough electricity. But researchers will study the discoveries InSight made over the coming decades to learn as much as they can about our mysterious planetary neighbor.