Science

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

Due to reduced power, the mission will suspend science operations until the end of late summer, Cathia Zamora Garcia, deputy director of the InSight project at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said during a Tuesday news briefing.

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

These suspended particles reduce the sunlight needed to charge the solar panels that power InSight, which is currently on an extended mission expected to last through December. The mission has achieved its primary goals after the first two years on the Martian surface.

The lander entered safe mode on May 7 when its energy level dropped, causing it to halt all but essential functions. The team assumes that this can happen more often In the future with increased dust exposure.

The stationary lander can only collect about a tenth of its available energy supply after landing on Mars in November 2018. When InSight first landed on Mars, it was able to produce about 5,000 watt-hours per day, which is about what it used to need to run an electric furnace for 1 hour and 40 minutes.

Now the probe produces 500 watts per day, which is enough to power an electric oven for just 10 minutes. If 25% of the solar panels are cleaned, InSight sees a sufficient increase in energy for its continuation. But the spaceship has seen many dust demons or hurricanes None of them were close enough to remove the solar panels.

“We were hoping to eliminate dust, as we’ve seen a few times on the Spirit and Opportunity spacecraft,” said Bruce Banerdt, InSight principal investigator at Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “It’s still possible, but the energy is low enough that we’re focused on making the most of the science we can still gather.”

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, end science operations, and monitor the energy levels remaining on the probe. The InSight mission ends at the end of the year.

However, the InSight team will continue to listen to any possible communications from the spacecraft and determine if it can be powered back on.

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

“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 of Mars that we couldn’t get from any other spacecraft in NASA’s Mars Fleet. Interpretation of the InSight data has enhanced our understanding of how rocky planets form across the Universe.”

The highly sensitive seismometer, called the Inner Structure Seismic Experiment, has registered more than 1,300 earthquakes from hundreds and thousands of kilometers away. Data collected by InSight so far Discover new details about the unknown core and mantle of Mars. It also recorded weather data and analyzed the remnants of the magnetic field that once existed on Mars.
Insight Discover the biggest yet, a power of 5, on May 4th.

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

This graph shows the difference between InSight power delivery in 2018 (left) and today (right) due to dust buildup and reduced sunlight.

Earthquakes on Mars 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.

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

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

As seismic swamp waves travel through various 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.

With InSight, according to Bannerdt, scientists have managed for the first time in history to map the interior of Mars.

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

InSight’s science team continues to analyze the earthquake to better understand its origin, source and what it could reveal about the Red Planet.

InSight’s constant flow of data to scientists on Earth will stop when solar cells can’t generate enough electricity. But researchers will study the discoveries InSight made over the coming decades to learn as much as they can about our mysterious planetary neighbor.

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