NASA's InSight lander is about to run out of power after detecting over 1,300 Martian quakes.
The Mars explorer has been robbed of power by a thick layer of red dust covering its solar panels. Over the summer, NASA expects InSight's science mission to end, including its temblor-detecting seismometer. At year's end, InSight's nearly 4-year mission will likely be over.
"InSight is probably coming to the end of its scientific life pretty soon," Bruce Banerdt, InSight's principal investigator at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said at a press briefing on May 17.
Here's how NASA illustrated why InSight's power is dwindling in a GIF it shared this week. The first image dates from December 2018. The second image, showing red dust on the two solar panels, is from InSight's last selfie, taken on April 24, 2022. By then, InSight had spent 1,211 Martian days on the dusty desert planet.
A dusty self-portrait.@NASAInSight took what is likely to be its final selfie on April 24. In the GIF, you can see the spacecraft’s first selfie in December 2018 and its last one where it’s covered in Martian dust. https://t.co/gvCNyRPnzC pic.twitter.com/CcN2Qzg90d— NASA JPL (@NASAJPL) May 24, 2022
The lander just registered its strongest quake yet, the strongest earthquake ever detected on another planet. This was a magnitude 5 quake, potent enough to be felt regionally on Earth, but a "monster" on Mars. It was clear from the seismic event that Mars is not dead, geologically speaking.
"Mars remains active, just not as active as Earth," Mark Panning, a planetary scientist and NASA's InSight lander project manager, told Mashable.
Besides observing extraterrestrial marsquakes, the InSight lander also collected daily weather reports, detected Mars' liquid core, and provided researchers with information about the red planet's interior geology.
NASA's nuclear-powered robotic rovers, Perseverance and Curiosity, continue to rumble over Mars and search for signs of past microbial life - if any ever existed.