NASA has shared the final self-portrait that will be taken by the InSight Mars lander, showing dust-covered solar panels that blend into the surrounding regolith. The InSight mission is scheduled to end this year, and the lander will need all of its remaining power to gather as much scientific data as possible.
At a press conference last week, NASA announced that InSight will likely cease all operations at the end of 2022. The end of the mission is due to the amount of dust that has accumulated on the lander’s solar panels, limiting the amount of power the spacecraft can draw.
For three years, InSight toiled on the Martian surface, take images of the martian sky and using its seismometer to detect marsquakes. For two years, the lander tried to use its “Mole” thermal probe to dig into the Martian surface, before the tool gets stuck in the spongy ground. Earlier this month, the lander detected the greatest seismic activity known to date on another planet: a magnitude 5 earthquake that occurred somewhere inside Mars.
The lander also gave scientists the better look at the Martian innards, as well as the geological and seismological systems at work on the planet today. InSight has so far detected 1,313 Marsquakes and may still detect more before its science operations end.
The end of the mission was a creeping certainty. The lander was previously forced into safe modes by Martian dust storms. Palliative measures helped remove some of the dust from the panels, namely by intentionally dropping Martian dirt on the dust to dislodge it, but such actions seem to have only prolonged the inevitable.
This latest selfie was taken on April 24 and shows the amount of dust that has accumulated on the spacecraft’s solar panels. That’s a lot more dust than in the first and second lander selfies, taken in December 2018 and between March and April 2019.
The selfies are mosaics, meaning they’re stitched together from multiple images, each requiring the robotic arm carrying the lander’s camera to be in a different position. With the power supply dwindling, selfies just aren’t worth draining the batteries, and the robotic arm will be moved to its resting position (or “retirement pose”) this month, according to the Nasa.
Kathya Zamora Garcia, deputy project manager for InSight, told the press conference last week that science operations of the lander could end as early as mid-July, but the Martian climate is unpredictable.
Whatever time InSight has left, we probably won’t see the lander again in such an exquisite panorama.
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