NASA’s InSight Mars lander falls silent after 4 years
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. –
It could be the end of a red dust trail for NASA’s InSight lander, which has gone silent after four years on Mars.
The lander’s power levels have been steadily declining for months due to the dust covering its solar panels. Ground controllers at California’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory knew the apocalypse was near, but NASA reported that InSight unexpectedly failed to respond to communications from Earth on Sunday.
“It is thought that InSight may have ended operations,” NASA said late Monday, adding that its last contact was on Thursday. “It’s unknown what prompted its energy shift.”
The team will continue to attempt to contact InSight, just in case.
InSight landed on Mars in 2018 and was the first spacecraft to record an earthquake. It detected more than 1,300 earthquakes using a French-made seismometer, including several caused by meteorite impacts. According to NASA, the most recent earthquake felt by InSight, earlier this year, caused the ground to shake for at least six hours.
Seismic readings shed light on Mars’ interior
Just last week, scientists revealed that InSight had scored another first goal, capturing a Martian dust demon not only visually but also with sound. Fortunately, the swirling column of dust blew straight at the lander in 2021 when its microphone was on.
However, the other main instrument of the lander had no problems but crashes.
A German digger – used to measure the temperature inside Mars – has never dug deeper than a few feet (half a meter), very short compared to the 16 feet (5 meters) expected. NASA declared it dead almost two years ago.
InSight recently sent back one final selfie, shared by NASA via Twitter on Monday.
“My powers are very low, so this may be the last image I can send,” the team wrote on behalf of InSight. “Don’t worry about me, though: my time here is both productive and serene. If I could continue talking to my mission group, I would — but I’ll be out of here soon. Thanks for staying with me.”
NASA still has two rovers working on Mars: Curiosity, which roamed the surface since 2012, and Perseverance, which arrived early last year.
Persistence is in the process of creating a sample repository; The plan is to leave 10 rock core tubes on the Martian surface as a backup for samples on the rover itself. NASA plans to bring some of these samples back to Earth in a decade, in the long-term search for signs of ancient microscopic life on Mars.
Perseverance also has a companion: a mini helicopter called Ingenuity. It just completed its 37th flight and has now recorded more than an hour of its flight over Mars.
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