The end of InSight, the NASA lander stationed on Mars since 2018, has long been in sight.
Project officials warned in May that the lander would likely become inoperable by the end of the year as dust accumulated on its solar panels and reduced its power source. In early November, NASA announced that the end was near and began taking steps to complete the mission.
The lander has also been transparent about its impending demise on Twitter, where it has been providing regular updates — in a tone some would call sad acceptance — to its nearly 800,000 followers.
It will be shared new discoveries, Commitments to continue operations news from him as long as possible upcoming retirement, honors for friends made along the way and thanks to the well-wishers who sent him postcards from all over the world.
And on Monday afternoon Eastern Time, it released what may be the latest update — a picture of the planet’s rocky surface and horizon line.
My energy is really low so this might be the last picture I can send. 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 pic.twitter.com/wkYKww15kQ
— NASA InSight (@NASAInSight) December 19, 2022
“My power is really low so this might be the last picture I can send,” he said Lander tweeted. “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.”
NASA announced in a blog post that InSight had not responded to communications from Earth the previous day. The mission said their last contact was on Thursday and it is not known what “triggered the change in their energy.”
The team will attempt to reach the lander again – NASA will declare the mission over if InSight misses two consecutive communications sessions – but it doesn’t sound optimistic.
“The lander’s performance has been declining for months, as expected, and it is believed that InSight may have reached its end of service,” the agency said.
The Lander’s legacy is out of this world
InSight – whose name actually stands for Interior Exploration Using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport – has accomplished much to be proud of during its long stay on Mars.
It was dispatched there in 2018 to help study the planet’s “inner space”, i.e. its crust, mantle and core.
The nearly 20-foot-long, 800-pound spacecraft accomplished so many of its goals in its first “Martian year” (nearly two Earth years) that its mission has been extended until the end of 2022.
Its main task was to use an instrument called a seismometer to track marsquakes (yes, other planets have them too). The shape and timing of the waves produced by the tremors shed light on the planet’s interior, NPR’s Joe Palca reported earlier this year.
“Before the InSight mission, we had no idea there would be marsquakes at all,” Northwestern University planetary scientist Suzan van der Lee told Palca.
InSight was not only the first to detect tremors on another planet, but went on to measure more than 1,300 seismic events.
NASA says their findings have given scientists new insights into the composition and structure of the planet’s layers – including how quickly heat is leaking from them – which in turn will improve their understanding of the geological history of the Martian surface and ultimately their ability over time Supporting time deepens life.
Other notable contributions from InSight include transporting the first-ever magnetometer instrument 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 quake that scientists later determined was caused by a meteorite impact, leading another Mars orbiter to spot a layer of water ice buried underground. NASA called this series of events “an icy gold mine.”
InSight principal investigator Bruce Banerdt told NPR earlier this year that the team accomplished everything they set out to do, with the exception of a disappointing heat flux experiment. And he repeated the praise in the NASA update in early November.
“We can finally see Mars as a planet with layers, with different thicknesses and compositions,” Banerdt said. “We’re starting to really tease out the details. Now it’s not just that mystery, it’s actually a living, breathing planet.”
Al Seib/AFP via Getty Images
The mission will end, but the exploration of Mars continues
Can a spaceship really suffer dust death? InSight shared some insights into a thoughtful twitter thread back in November.
In essence, a system for self-cleaning of dust would have added cost and complexity to the mission, and had already doubled the planned length of stay.
The InSight team had prepared for the lander’s departure by preserving its data and adding it to an international archive, shutting down many of its systems to conserve power, and displaying the full-size technical model of the lander, known as “ForeSight”. , packed up.
NASA says once it declares the mission over, it will “listen for a while, just in case.”
“There will be no heroic action to restore contact with InSight,” it said. “While a mission-saving event – such as a strong gust of wind cleaning the panels – cannot be ruled out, it is considered unlikely.”
It will join the several other countries that have named Mars as their final resting place.