After detecting over 1,300 Martian quakes, NASA’s InSight lander will soon run out of power.
A thick layer of red dust has coated the landmark robot’s solar panels, depriving the geologic sleuth of the power it needs to continue investigating Mars’ interior. The space agency expects to shut down InSight’s science mission, notably the use of its temblor-detecting seismometer, over the summer. By year’s end, InSight’s successful, nearly four-year mission will likely end.
“InSight is probably coming to the end of its scientific life pretty soon,” Bruce Banerdt, InSight’s principal investigator at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said at a press briefing on May 17.
A GIF NASA shared this week gives a vivid look at why InSight’s power is diminishing. The first image is from December 2018. The second image, showing red dust on the two solar panels, is from InSight’s final selfie, taken on April 24, 2022. By then, InSight had spent 1,211 Martian days, or sols, on the dusty desert planet.
Just recently, the lander detected its largest quake yet, the strongest temblor ever detected on another planet. It was a magnitude 5 quake, something potent enough to be felt regionally on Earth, but a true “monster” for Mars. The seismic event underscored that Mars isn’t nearly dead, geologically.
“Mars remains active, just not as active as Earth,” Mark Panning, a planetary scientist and NASA’s InSight lander project manager, told Mashable.
In addition to observing extraterrestrial marsquakes, the InSight lander also collected daily weather reports, detected the red planet’s large, liquid core, and helped researchers map Mars’ inner geology.
Elsewhere on Mars, NASA’s nuclear-powered robotic rovers, Perseverance and Curiosity, continue to rumble over the red planet and sleuth out evidence of past microbial life — should any have ever existed.