Update: Shortly after this article was published, NASA confirmed this not connect to the Mars InSight lander (opens in new tab) in two consecutive attempts ending the four-year mission on the planet’s surface.
Twilight is approaching NASA’s Mars InSight lander – a robotic seismology laboratory that has been studying the inner workings of the red planet since November 2018.
On Tuesday (December 20), NASA announced in a expression (opens in new tab) that InSight was not responding to routine communications from Earth. This is an alarming, if not surprising, sign that InSight may finally be dead after months of dwindling power.
“My power is really low so this may be the last picture I can send,” the official said InSight Twitter Account (opens in new tab) tweeted 12/19 along with a dusty selfie. “Don’t worry about me though: my time here has been both productive and quiet. If I can continue to speak to my mission team, I will – but I will be unsubscribing here soon. Thank you for staying with me.”
The solar panels that InSight relies on for power have been continuously blanketed in dust and debris over the past four years, gradually reducing the available energy. Things were so bad this summer that NASA shut down all of InSight’s science instruments except for the seismometer, allowing the stricken lander to concentrate on its primary mission goal for as long as possible — listening for marsquakes to study the interior of Mars.
NASA will officially declare the InSight mission over if the lander does not respond to a second consecutive communications session. After that, the 25-30 strong operations team will complete the mission by ensuring that four years of InSight’s data is properly stored and made easily accessible to researchers around the world.
On November 11, InSight landed on Mars’ Elysium Planitia – a flat, volcanically active plain that straddles the Martian equator. 26, 2018. Using a robotic arm, the lander brought a small seismometer (a device used to measure seismic waves generated by earthquakes and impacts) onto the plane and then covered it with a dome-shaped heat and wind shield. Since then, InSight has detected more than 1,300 marsquakes – the largest of which was a whopping 4.7 magnitude tremor on May 4, 2022.
Studying this seismic data has already helped scientists map the mysterious interior of Marsrecognize the The most massive meteorite impact ever recorded in the solar system and show that volcanic activity on the red planet could lead to a hidden source of liquid water.
With four years of data, scientists around the world are likely to use InSight’s findings to unravel the mysteries of Mars for years to come. Farewell sweet robot.