InSight Lander Beams Back Its Last Image From Mars
Time is running out for NASA’s InSight lander. On the heels of yet another important seismic discovery, the lander’s power reserves have dropped to critical levels. InSight, which has been on Mars since late 2018, beamed home what may be its final image, featuring the arid surface and its own dust-covered instruments.
InSight’s impending demise is not a shock — NASA announced earlier this year that it expected the lander to go offline in late 2022. At the time, NASA estimated November as the end for InSight, but it’s eked out a few more weeks.
The cause of its final shutdown is a problem familiar to Mars missions: power. InSight gets its power from a pair of round solar panels measuring about seven feet (2.15 meters) across. When it was first operating, these panels supplied the lander with 600W of power. However, Mars is a big dustball, and the wind has slowly deposited Martian fines on the surface of the panels. NASA tried cleaning off the panels in 2021 by dumping more dust on them, but with only modest success. Last summer, the panels delivered just 20% of the power they did originally. Now caked in dust, the solar panels can’t keep the robot’s batteries charged even that much.
My power’s really low, so this may be the last image I can send. Don’t worry about me though: my time here has been both productive and serene. If I can keep talking to my mission team, I will – but I’ll be signing off here soon. Thanks for staying with me. pic.twitter.com/wkYKww15kQ
— NASA InSight (@NASAInSight) December 19, 2022
The lander’s final image (above) shows the unremarkable landscape of Elysium Planitia extending to the horizon. InSight wasn’t interested in surface formations, though. NASA chose this region for InSight to probe the interior of the planet, and its two main instruments are visible in the image as well. On the right is the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS), which InSight used to gather data on marsquakes. On the left is the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3). That one was supposed to burrow into the ground and take temperature readings. Sadly, the HP3 was never able to dig through the smooth Martian soil efficiently enough to make any headway. NASA canceled this experiment after spending months troubleshooting.
NASA likes to anthropomorphize its robotic explorers, so InSight’s final message is a poignant one. “Don’t worry about me though: my time here has been both productive and serene,” the rover (allegedly) says. InSight made history by delivering the first seismic data from Mars, and researchers will no doubt be looking back at the mission’s results for years to come. Not a bad legacy.