February 2, 2023

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After a long struggle with Martian dust, NASA's InSight probe has calmed down

After a long struggle with Martian dust, NASA’s InSight probe has calmed down

Zoom in / This is probably the last image that InSight took on Mars and was transmitted back to Earth.

NASA

NASA’s InSight probe may have called home for the last time from Mars.

The space agency said the spacecraft did not respond to communications from Earth on Sunday, December 18. The lack of communications came as the rover’s ability to generate power has declined in recent months due to Martian dust accumulating on its solar panels. NASA said Insight is “supposed” to have reached the end of its operations but will continue to attempt to contact the lander in the coming days.

Also Monday, the InSight Twitter account shared an image with a message saying this may have been the last image it sent back from Mars.

InSight landed on Mars in 2018 with the aim of studying seismic activity. And it worked — InSight detected more than 1,300 earthquakes, including a relatively strong 4.7-magnitude earthquake on May 4. It was the largest earthquake detected to date and at the extreme limit of what scientists hope to monitor. This seismic activity has allowed scientists to tease out details about the internal structure of the Red Planet.

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However, during his operations on Mars, the stationary lander’s solar panels steadily accumulated dust. By May 2022, the panels were producing only 500 watt-hours of power, a tenth of what they could generate on a Mars landing. Since then, its power levels have steadily declined to the point where InSight doesn’t have the juice needed to send radio back to Earth.

It’s always hard to say goodbye to spacecraft like InSight. Humans are sending these robotic probes into the frigid depths of the solar system to further our scientific understanding. During that time, they shine brightly for a few years. Then they were gone.

Look, I’m not sure why water is running from your eyes. But speaking for myself, this Martian dust caused tears to come out of my eyes. This is my story, and I stick to it.