June 7, 2023

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Dust-covered solar panels mean the end of NASA's Mars probe mission

Dust-covered solar panels mean the end of NASA’s Mars probe mission

Because of reduced power supplies, the mission will cease science operations by the end of late summer, Cathia Zamora Garcia, deputy director of the InSight project at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., said during a press conference Tuesday.

InSight’s solar panels are increasingly covered in red Martian dust, despite creative efforts By the mission team on the ground. This accumulation It will only get worse as Mars now enters winter, when more dust will rise into the atmosphere.

These floating particles reduce sunlight needed to charge the solar panels powering InSight, which is currently on an extended mission that was expected to last through December. The mission achieved its primary goals after its first two years on the surface of Mars.

The lander entered safe mode on May 7, when its energy levels dropped, causing it to stop all but essential functions. The team anticipates that this can happen more frequently In the future with increased dust levels.

The stationary lander is only able to collect about a tenth of its available power supply after landing on Mars in November 2018. When InSight first landed, it could produce about 5,000 watt-hours per day on Mars, about what it used to take to run Electric oven for 1 hour and 40 minutes.

Now, the probe produces 500 watts per day, which is enough to power an electric furnace for only 10 minutes. If 25% of the solar panels are cleaned, InSight will see a sufficient increase in energy for its continuation. The spacecraft has seen many dust demons, or whirlwinds, but None of them were close enough to remove the solar panels.

“We were hoping to clean up dust like we’ve seen happen a few times for the Spirit and Opportunity spacecraft,” said Bruce Banerdt, InSight’s principal investigator at Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “It’s still possible, but the energy is low enough that our focus is on making the most of the science we can still collect.”

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The spacecraft’s robotic arm will soon be put into “retirement” mode.

By the end of the summer, the team will turn off the seismometer, terminate scientific operations, and monitor energy levels remaining on the probe. At the end of the year, the InSight mission will end.

However, the InSight team will continue to listen to any potential communication from the spacecraft and determine if it can be turned on again.

InSight captured this image of a solar panel covered in dust on April 24.

“The InSight mission has really been an amazing mission for us,” said Laurie Glaese, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division, during the press conference. “And it gave us a glimpse into Mars that we couldn’t get from any other spacecraft in NASA’s Mars fleet. Interpreting the InSight data has advanced our understanding of how rocky planets form throughout the universe.”

The highly sensitive seismometer, called the Inner Structure Seismic Experiment, has detected more than 1,300 earthquakes from hundreds and thousands of miles away. Data collected by InSight so far Uncover new details about unknown Mars’ core and mantle. It also recorded weather data and analyzed the remnants of the magnetic field that once existed on Mars.

“Even as we near the end of our mission, Mars still gives us some really amazing things to see,” Banerdt said.

This graphic shows the difference in the InSight power supply in 2018 (left) versus what is now (right) due to dust buildup and reduced sunlight.

Martian earthquakes are similar to the earthquakes we see on Earth, but they differ slightly when it comes to why they occur on each planet. Down to earth, that’s lately The event will be a moderate-sized earthquake – but it will set a new record for seismic activity discovered by scientists studying Mars.

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When we feel earthquakes, it is because the tectonic plates on the Earth are moving and moving and grinding against each other. So far, Earth is the only planet known to have these plates.

So how do earthquakes occur on Mars? Think of Mars’ crust as one giant plate. This crust has cracks and fissures inside because the planet continues to shrink as it cools. This contraction It compresses, stretches and cracks the crust of Mars.

When swamp seismic waves travel through different materials within Mars, they allow scientists to study the planet’s structure. Activity analysis helps them understand the mysterious interior of Mars and apply this research to learn how other rocky planets, including our own, formed.

Using InSight, Bannerdt said, scientists have been able to map the interior of Mars for the first time in history.

Seismic signals from swamps running through the material revealed more about Mars' crust, mantle, and core.

The science team at InSight continues to analyze the earthquake to better understand its origin, source, and what it might reveal about the Red Planet.

The constant flow of data to scientists on Earth from InSight will stop when solar cells can’t generate enough power. But researchers will study the discoveries InSight has made for decades to come in order to learn as much as possible about our mysterious planetary neighbor.