NASA’s InSight has gone dark. As reported yesterday by space agency NASA, its InSight Lander did not respond to communications from Earth.
It last communicated with Earth on Dec. 15, said NASA, who posted a final, rather emotional tweet on its behalf before today declaring is a “dead bus.”
So these photos, sent back on Dec. 11, are its last as the greatest-ever “marsquake” detector has been covered, slowly but surely, by red dust.
“We’ve thought of InSight as our friend and colleague on Mars for the past four years, so it’s hard to say goodbye,” said Bruce Banerdt of JPL, the mission’s principal investigator. “But it has earned its richly deserved retirement.”
It’s been a long, slow decline for the robotic platform, which was launched from Earth in May 2018 and landed on Mars in November 18.
Power has been reducing onboard InSight for almost a year because passing dust storms have deposited red dust over its solar panels—and the hoped-for passing whirlwind to cleans its solar panels never materialized.
When it first landed it could run the equivalent of an electric oven for an 1 hour 40 minutes, but by mid-2022 it was about 10 minutes.
InSight has spent over four years using its seismometer studying the crust, mantle and core of Mars from its position in the vast, flat Elysium Planitia region. It’s often called the “parking lot” of Mars because of the presence of other missions including NASA’s Curiosity and Perseverance rovers.
Just last week it was revealed in Geophysical Research Letters that the S1222a marsquake it detected in May 2022 was a record-breaker. With a magnitude of 4.7—though relatively small compared to what’s possible on Earth—it dwarfed the next largest marsquake detected, a 4.2 in August 2021. Waves from S1222a lasted for 10 hours, ten times longer than previously detected.
“We are impressed that almost at the end of the extended mission, we had this very remarkable event,” said Taichi Kawamura, lead author and planetary scientist at the Institut de physique du globe de Paris, France. Based on the data gathered from this quake, “I would say this mission was an extraordinary success,” he continued.
Being covered in dust is a fate that eventually befalls most NASA missions that land on Mars. NASA’s Opportunity rover—nicknamed “Oppy” and which roamed the red planet for 15 years—was eventually killed-off in 2018 by a series of dust storms that ultimately drained its batteries beyond recovery.
It’s now the subject of a new movie, Good Night Oppy (a tear-jerker if you get sentimental about robotic space rovers).
InSight’s original mission ended in December 2020, but NASA extended the mission for two years. It just made it before entering its inevitable eternal sleep.
Good night, InSight.
Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes.