Dust-covered solar panels mean NASA’s Mars landing mission ends

Due to the power outage, the mission will cease scientific operations by the end of the summer, said Kathia Zamora Garcia, deputy director of InSight at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, during

InSight solar panels are increasingly covered in red Martian dust, despite creative efforts by the Earth mission team. This accumulation will only get worse as Mars enters winter now, when more dust rises into the atmosphere.

These suspended particles reduce the sunlight needed to charge the solar panels that power InSight, which is currently working on an extended mission that was expected to last until December. The mission achieved its primary goals after the first two years on Mars.

The aircraft entered safe mode on May 7, when its energy levels dropped, causing it to stop everything except its basic functions. The team expects this to happen more often in the future as dust levels increase.

The fixed floor can only collect one-tenth of the available power it had after landing on Mars in November 2018. When InSight first landed, it could produce about 5,000 watts-hours each day on Mars, the equivalent of that. needed to power an electric oven for one hour and 40 minutes.

Now, the lander produces 500 watts-hours a day, enough to power an electric oven for just 10 minutes. If 25% of solar panels were cleaned, InSight would have sufficient power boost to continue. The spacecraft has seen many dust devils, or tornadoes, but none were close enough to clean the solar panels.

“We were hoping for a dust clean-up like we’ve seen happen many times in Spirit and Opportunity rovers,” said Bruce Banerdt, lead researcher at InSight at JPL. “This is still possible, but the energy is low enough that our focus is on making the most of the science we can still collect.”

The landing gear robotic arm will soon be placed in a “retirement pose”.

By the end of the summer, the team will turn off the seismometer, terminate scientific work and monitor what power levels remain on the ground. At the end of the year, the InSight mission will be completed.

The InSight team, however, will continue to hear about any possible communication from the spacecraft and determine if it could ever work again.

InSight captured this image of one of its dust-covered solar panels on April 24.

“The InSight mission was truly an incredible mission for us,” Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division, told a news conference. “And it gave us a taste of Mars that we could not get from any other spacecraft on our NASA Mars fleet. The interpretation of the InSight data has really enhanced our understanding of how rocky planets form across the universe.”

The extremely sensitive seismometer of the landing, called the Seismic Experiment for Internal Structure, has detected more than 1,300 earthquakes from hundreds and thousands of miles away. Data collected by InSight so far have revealed new details about the little-known core and mantle of Mars. He has also recorded weather data and analyzed the remnants of the magnetic field that once existed on Mars.
InSight spotted the largest to date, size 5, on May 4.

“Even when we start nearing the end of our mission, Mars still gives us some really amazing things to see,” Banerdt said.

This graph shows the difference in the power supply of InSight in 2018 (left) compared to what it has now (right) due to the accumulation of dust and the reduction of sunlight.

Marsquakes are like the earthquakes we experience on Earth, a little different when it comes to why they happen on every planet. On Earth, this recent The event would be a mid-magnitude earthquake – but it sets a new record for seismic activity detected by scientists studying Mars.

When we experience earthquakes, it is because the tectonic plates on Earth shift, move and rub against each other. So far, Earth is the only planet known to have these plates.

So how do earthquakes happen on Mars? Think of the crust of Mars as a single giant plate. This crust has cracks and fissures inside because the planet continues to shrink as it cools. This shrinkage exerts pressure on the crust of Mars, stretching and cracking it.

When seismic waves travel through different materials inside Mars, it allows scientists to study the structure of the planet. Analyzing their activity helps them understand the mysterious interior of Mars and apply this research to learn how other rocky planets are formed, including ours.

With InSight, scientists were able to map the interior of Mars for the first time in history, Banerdt said.

Seismic signals from earthquakes passing through material have revealed more about the crust, mantle and core of Mars.

The InSight team continues to analyze the earthquake to better understand its origin, source and what it can reveal about the red planet.

The steady flow of InSight data aimed at scientists on Earth will stop when solar cells can no longer produce enough energy. But researchers will study InSight’s exploration for decades to learn as much as possible about our enigmatic planetary neighbor.

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