December 5, 2022

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Lander who felt the shiver of a dying Mars (but there was still a glimmer of hope)

Lander who felt the shiver of a dying Mars (but there was still a glimmer of hope)

gust of wind That’s all you need to extend the probe’s life at the last minute.

The day NASA has to say goodbye to Marslander Insight is approaching. Dust from the wind accumulates on the solar panels, causing the probe to generate less and less power. However, the team will continue until the bitter end and will continue to collect data until it is really not possible. The only thing that could save the probe is a gust of wind. “We are at the mercy of Mars,” said Bruce Banerdt, the mission’s principal investigator.

The end of the Mars probe, which has been researching the internal structure of Mars for several years, has been coming for a while. This is because the dust that has settled on the solar panels is getting thicker. As a result, the probe gradually loses its power.

Selfie from Insight. Left: This is what the InSight solar panel looked like on December 6, 2018, just ten days after InSight landed on Mars. Right: This image was taken on April 24, 2022. The solar panel is completely covered in a thick layer of dust. Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Last summer, the probe had so little power left that the researchers decided to shut down all scientific instruments except for the seismometer. Even the fault protection system was turned off. “We had less than 20 percent of the original capacity,” Banerdt explains. “That means we can’t afford to keep the machines running.”

Recently, a dust storm devastated Insight once again. The seismometer was also turned off at the time to save energy. Now that the storm has passed, the seismometer is collecting data again. But only for a short time. The researchers expect that the probe will only have enough power for a few more weeks. “Of the array of sensors that the seismometer is equipped with, only the most sensitive still operate,” said team member Lise Barrett. “We will continue until the end.”

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Although the researchers try to extend the task as long as possible, they are also completing their work in the meantime. For example, they work to securely store the wealth of data that Insight has collected over its lifetime and make it accessible to scientists around the world. In addition, Forsight, a fully functional full-size model of InSight, will be stored. Engineers were able to pre-test all operations on Mars using ForeSight. But now his work is finished. “It was a great tool,” Banerdt says. “He was a nice companion throughout the mission.”

Insight mission
Team members can look back with pride at the Insight mission, which exceeded all expectations. Marslander InSight mode Feet on Mars in 2018 It was published not long after Seismometer on the surface of the red planet. This seismometer has already recorded more than 1,300 earthquakes. This means that Insight has expanded our knowledge of Mars quite a bit. Because it is clear that earthquakes also occur frequently on the neighboring planet Mars. Last May, the probe measured the Martian earthquake with it The power of five on the Richter scale. This earthquake went down in history as the most powerful earthquake ever recorded on any other planet. In addition, Insight has discovered many Martian earthquakes caused by meteorite hit.

The insight provided a lot of insight
The InSight mission allowed scientists to study the depth and composition of Mars’ crust, mantle, and core. By observing how seismic waves travel through Mars, scientists have gained unique insight into the planet’s interior. The probe’s data revealed intriguing details about the red planet’s inner layers, its liquid core, the surprisingly changing subsurface remnants of the largely extinct magnetic field, and the weather prevailing in this part of Mars. This not only expands our knowledge of our nearest neighbor, but also gives us insight into how other rocky worlds, including Earth and the Moon, formed. “Finally, we see Mars as a layered planet,” Bannerdt said. “These layers have different thicknesses and textures. We are now beginning to understand these details. It has shown us that Mars is a living, breathing planet.”

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For the foreseeable future, team members will continue to collect data for as long as they can. NASA announces the end of the mission when Insight ceases to communicate and the lander can no longer communicate. By the way, NASA’s Deep Space Network will continue to listen for a while even after that, should that happen.

Ray of hope
No heroic measures will be taken to reconnect with InSight if it is broken. But there is still a glimmer of hope. If it suddenly starts landing on Mars, Insight’s solar panels can be scanned again. Thus, more than one gust of wind is not necessary to extend the probe’s life at the last minute.

It remains to be seen if that will actually happen. As Banerdt said, the team is at the mercy of Mars. But even if the Insight dust quickly becomes fatal, there is no need to grieve. The researchers expect that the data collected by Insight will lead to discoveries for decades to come.