The end has long been in sight for InSight, NASA’s lander that has been stationed on Mars since 2018.
Project officials warned in May that the probe would likely become inoperable by the end of the year because of dust that had built up on its solar panels, reducing its power source. By early November, NASA announced that the end was near and began taking steps to finish the mission.
Probe has also been transparent about its impending demise on Twitter, providing regular updates — in a tone some might call a wistful admission — to its nearly 800,000 followers.
It’s common New discoveriesAnd the He vows to continue working As long as he can, his news upcoming retirementAnd the Greetings to friends All the way and thanks to the well-wishers Send her postcards from all over the world.
And on Monday afternoon ET, it posted what may be its last update — an image of the planet’s rocky surface and horizon line.
My power is really low, so this might be the last picture I can send. Don’t worry about me though: my time here has been productive and uneventful. If I can keep talking to my mission team, I will – but I’m going to sign here soon. Thanks for staying with me. pic.twitter.com/wkYKww15kQ
– NASA InSight (@NASAInSight) December 19, 2022
“My strength is really low, so this might be the last image I can send,” Lander tweeted. “Don’t worry though: My time here has been productive and uneventful. If I can keep talking to my mission team, I will—but I’m leaving here soon. Thanks for staying with me.”
NASA announced in a blog post that InSight did not respond to communications from Earth the day before. The mission said its last contact was on Thursday, and it is not known what “led to the change in its capacity”.
The team will try again to reach the probe — NASA will declare the mission over when InSight misses two consecutive contact sessions — but that doesn’t sound optimistic.
“The downward force has been declining for months, as expected, and Insight should be coming to an end,” the agency said.
The legacy of the probe is out of this world
InSight — which is actually an acronym for Inland Exploration Using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport — did much to be proud of during its extended stay on Mars.
He was sent there in 2018 to help study the “inner space” of the planet, that is, its crust, mantle and core.
The roughly 20-foot long, 800-pound rover achieved so much of its goals in its first “Martian year” (nearly two Earth years) that its mission has been extended through the end of 2022.
Its primary mission was to use an instrument called a seismometer to track earthquakes on Mars (yes, other planets have these too). The shape and timing of the waves generated by the quakes have shed light on the planet’s interior, as NPR’s Joe Palca reported earlier this year.
“Before the InSight mission, we had no idea that earthquakes from Mars could occur,” Northwestern University planetary scientist Susan van der Lee told Palca.
Not only did InSight become the first to detect earthquakes on another planet – it went on to measure more than 1,300 seismic events.
NASA says its findings have given scientists new insights into the composition and structure of the planet’s layers — including how quickly heat escapes from them — which in turn deepens their understanding of the geological history of Mars’ surface and, ultimately, its ability over time to support life.
Other notable contributions of InSight include carrying the first-ever magnetometer to the surface of Mars (so it can detect magnetic signals) and collecting the most comprehensive weather data of any mission sent there.
It also detected a magnitude 4 earthquake that scientists later determined was caused by a meteor strike, which led to another Mars rover discovering a layer of water ice buried underground. NASA called this chain of events “Ice Fortune”.
Bruce Banerdt, InSight’s principal investigator, told NPR earlier this year that the team had accomplished everything they planned, save for one disappointing heat-flow experiment. He reiterated the praise in an early November NASA update.
“Finally, we can see Mars as a planet with layers and with different thicknesses and compositions,” Banerdt said. “We’re really starting to work out the details. Now it’s not just a mystery; it’s actually a living, breathing planet.”
Seeb/AFP via Getty Images
The mission will end, but the exploration of Mars continues
Can a spacecraft meet death due to dust? InSight shared some thoughts in a file Thoughtful Twitter thread Back in november.
Essentially, she said, a regimen for dusting herself would have made the task more expensive and complicated, plus it actually doubled her planned stay.
The InSight team prepared for the lander’s expiration by preserving and adding its data to an international archive, turning off several of its energy-conserving systems and filling in the full-size engineering model of the lander known as “ForeSight.”
NASA says that once it declares a mission finished, it will keep listening “for some time, just in case.”
“There will be no heroic measures to reconnect with Insight,” she said. “While a mission-saving event—a strong gust of wind, for example, clears the panels—is not out of the question, it is considered unlikely.”
It will join the many other landers that call Mars their final resting place.
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