CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — It could be the end of the dusty red line for NASA’s InSight lander, which has gone silent after four years on Mars.
The lander’s power levels have been declining for months due to all the dust coating its solar arrays. Ground controllers at California’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory knew the end was near, but NASA reported that InSight unexpectedly failed to respond to communications from Earth on Sunday.
“It is assumed that InSight may have reached the end of its operations,” NASA said on Monday, adding that its last communication was on Thursday. “It is not known what prompted the change in his energy.”
The team will continue to try to contact InSight, just in case.
InSight landed on Mars in 2018 and was the first spacecraft to document an earthquake. It has detected more than 1,300 earthquakes with its French-built seismometer, including many caused by meteoroid attacks. The most recent earthquake detected by InSight, earlier this year, left the ground shaking for at least six hours, according to NASA.
Seismometer readings shed light on Mars’ interior.
Just last week, scientists revealed that InSight set yet another first, capturing a Martian dust devil not only in pictures, but sound as well. By a stroke of luck, the swirling column of dust flew directly above the lander in 2021 when its microphone was on.
The lander’s other main instrument, however, has run into nothing but trouble.
A German excavation device — intended to measure the temperature of Mars’ interior — has never gone deeper than a couple of feet (half a meter), well short of the predicted 16 feet (5 meters). NASA pronounced her dead almost two years ago.
InSight recently sent out one last selfie, shared by NASA via Twitter on Monday.
“My power is really low so this may be the last image I can send,” the team he wrote on behalf of InSight. “Don’t worry about me though: my time here has been both productive and serene. If I can continue to talk to my mission team, I will, but I will be resigning soon. Thanks for staying with me.
NASA still has two active rovers on Mars: Curiosity, which has been roaming the surface since 2012, and Perseverance, which arrived early last year.
Perseverance is creating a sample repository; the plan is to leave 10 rock core tubes on the Martian surface as a reserve for samples on the rover itself. NASA plans to return some of these samples to Earth in a decade, in its long search for signs of ancient microscopic life on Mars.
Perseverance also has a companion: a mini helicopter called Ingenuity. He just completed his 37th flight and has now logged over an hour of Martian flight time.
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