Over the course of its time on Mars, the InSight lander measured 1319 marsquakes, but it has finally been overwhelmed with dust and its mission has come to an end
21 December 2022
NASA’s InSight mission on Mars is officially over. After more than four years of collecting data on seismic activity under the surface of the Red Planet, the lander has run out of power and is no longer able to make contact with its operators on Earth.
InSight landed on Mars in 2018 with two main goals: to use its seismometer to build a model of the planet’s interior, and to measure heat flow within the planet. While the heat probe, nicknamed the mole, failed to burrow into the Martian soil despite two years of trying everything engineers could think of to get it underground, the seismometer was a resounding success.
It measured its first marsquakes in early 2019, small movements in the ground caused by meteorite strikes, and continued catching them at an average rate of slightly less than one per day. In all, InSight observed 1319 quakes, ranging from the small trembles of meteorite strikes to powerful rumbles caused by grinding rocks underground.
Measuring marsquakes didn’t just tell us that there is seismic activity on Mars; the way that they travelled underground allowed researchers to measure the size of Mars’s core and the thicknesses of the other layers atop it, fulfilling the lander’s initial mission. Analyses of the same data showed where water was hiding underground and even surprising evidence of geological activity on Mars.
But as its solar panels collected dust, InSight’s power levels got lower and lower. Usually, spacecraft on Mars are periodically dusted off by gusts of wind, but the area where InSight landed has been unexpectedly placid. Using the lander’s robotic arm to sprinkle dirt onto the solar panels on relatively windy days swept away a small amount of dust, but not enough to prolong InSight’s life for long.
Now, after two consecutive, failed attempts to contact the lander, NASA has declared it dead. The last time it sent a message to Earth was on 15 December, and while engineers will keep listening for a beacon from InSight, they don’t expect to hear anything.
“Yes, it’s sad to say goodbye, but InSight’s legacy will live on, informing and inspiring,” said Laurie Leshin, the mission’s manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, in a statement. There is plenty of data already on Earth from the lander, and researchers will continue analysing it for years to come.
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