For robots on Mars, dust isn’t just annoying, it can be downright deadly.
Unfortunately, that rings painfully true for NASA’s intrepid InSight lander. After 1,211 sols, or martian days, InSight’s power levels are draining due to its solar panels being covered in more dust than ever. When InSight first landed, its panels were able to produce around 5,000 watt-hours of energy every day. But now they can only muster a measly 500 watt-hours.
The region in which InSight is positioned, Elysium Planitia, is about to experience seasonal changes over the next few months. In the past, the dust-carrying winds that accompany these weather changes have actually removed dust from other missions, such as Spirit and Opportunity. However, it would take very powerful, lucky gusts to save InSight.
Rather than hold out hope, the mission team is focused on collecting as much data as possible with the limited time they may have left with the lander. Since its landing Nov. 26, 2018, InSight has detected over 1,300 marsquakes. Having accomplished its science goals in only one martain year, InSight is now in an extended mission phase.
Although the lander is expected to continue collecting data until at least the end of summer, in order to preserve what little power it has left, InSight likely won’t be taking any more selfies.