NASA shared the final self-portrait to be taken by the InSight Mars landing craft, showing solar panels with dust mixed in the surrounding regolith. The InSight mission is expected to be completed this year and the scaffolding will need all its remaining power to gather as much scientific data as possible.
At a press conference last week, NASA announced that InSight will probably stop all operations by the end of 2022. The end of the mission is due to the amount of dust that has accumulated in the solar panels of the ship, limiting the amount of energy from which the spacecraft can draw.
For three years, InSight has worked hard on the surface of Mars, taking pictures of the skies of Mars and using its seismometer to detect jams. For two years, the landing craft attempted to use the “Mole” heat sensor to dig into the surface of Mars. before the tool sticks to the spongy soil. Earlier this month, the Lander located the largest known seismic activity to date on another planet: a 5 magnitude earthquake that occurred somewhere inside Mars.
The ship also gave the scientists the the best look inside Mars, as well as the geological and seismic systems that operate on the planet today. InSight has so far detected 1,313 Marseilles and could detect even more before completing its scientific work.
The end of the mission was a creeping certainty. The lander was in the past forced into safe operations from the dust storms of Mars. Stop measures helped to remove some of the dust from the panels – that is, by deliberately throwing Mars dirt into the dust to remove it – but such actions seem to have simply prolonged the inevitable.
This last selfie was taken on April 24 and shows the amount of dust that has accumulated on the spacecraft’s solar panels. It’s a lot more dusty than it was in the lander’s first and second selfies, received in December 2018 and between March and April 2019.
The selfies are mosaic, which means that they are sewn together by many images, each of which requires the robotic arm that carries the landing camera to be in a different position. With power outages, selfies are simply not worth the battery, and the robotic arm will move to a resting position (or “retirement pose”) this month, according to NASA.
Kathya Zamora Garcia, Deputy Project Director for InSight, told a news conference last week that the lander’s scientific operations could end in mid-July, but that the Mars climate is unpredictable.
As long as there is InSight left, we will probably never see the boat in such a magnificent panorama again.
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