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Thursday, May 23, 2024

After four years of listening for quakes on Mars, NASA’s InSight mission has come to an end

The NASA Mars InSight rover has unfortunately perished.

Mission management have been preparing for this for months, since dust has been building up on the lander’s solar panels and preventing the stationary spacecraft from receiving the sunlight it needs to produce electricity.

More than four years after touching down on Mars, InSight has not spoken with Earth since December 15 as part of its mission to monitor the red planet’s seismological trembling. But the previous two efforts at contact yielded no results, and on Wednesday, NASA said that further contact with InSight was very doubtful.

Bruce Banerdt, the mission’s lead investigator at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in an interview, “I feel sad, but I also feel very wonderful.” “We’ve known this has to end sometime.”

“It’s been a tremendous run,” he continued.

NASA’s Core Exploration Using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy, and Heat Transport (InSight) project was a departure from the agency’s more well-known rover missions in that it did not seek for evidence of water and possibly extinct life on Mars but rather explored the planet’s deep interior. The goal of the $830 million project was to learn more about the composition, structure, and history of the planet.

In contrast to Earth, Mars does not experience plate tectonics, the movement of tectonic plates that form the planet’s surface. However, marsquakes still take place due to other forces, like as the crust contracting and breaking as it cools.

In the last year of the mission, the spacecraft’s detectors picked up vibrations from a large space rock (15-40 feet in diameter) that impacted Mars 2,000 miles distant on Christmas Eve. After the impact, NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter took pictures of the new crater and the fragments of subsurface ice that were thrown to the surface. A possible resource for future astronauts, that ice find was the closest to the equator ever found.

InSight detected the greatest marsquake of the mission in May, measuring 4.7 on the Richter scale.

The seismometer on board the spacecraft performed as expected. Seismic activity on another planet was detected for the first time.

Although this was the first such observation, extraterrestrial earthquakes have before been felt. There were several moonquakes recorded by seismometers left on the moon by NASA astronauts during the Apollo missions.

Thinner than anticipated (by a factor of 15–25 miles), the crust underneath InSight was discovered. It comes as somewhat of a surprise to scientists that Mars, although being far smaller than Earth, nonetheless has a molten core. The core is less dense than projected and has a wider diameter than anticipated (1,120 miles), all of which suggest to the presence of lighter elements mixed in with the iron. The core’s lack of solidity may be explained by the presence of these components, which reduce the melting point.

Scientists may use the geological structure to calculate how much heat is escaping from Mars, which in turn allows them to imagine what the planet looked like and whether or not it was habitable several billion years ago.

Dr. Banerdt has said that it is still feasible for InSight to come back to life, particularly if one of the miniature dust devil storms that skitter over the Martian terrain passes over the spacecraft and cleans off the dust.

If InSight’s solar panels are able to charge the batteries, the rover will attempt a restart and reconnect. Reactivated InSight may cause communication problems for other NASA spacecraft on Mars if it continues to send out radio messages.

With InSight’s mission coming to a close, NASA’s Perseverance rover is busy preparing for its own Mars exploration mission. Roughly ten tubes of rock samples, each about the size of a chalk stick, have begun to fall to the earth.

In the Jezero Crater, where it landed, the rover Perseverance has been digging into a wide range of rock types. The rocks will be brought back to Earth in a follow-up mission called Mars Sample Return, which is currently in the planning phases.

Other tubes are still in the rover’s cargo, and it is expected that it will transport these samples to the Mars Sample Return lander. So yet, only two samples have been drilled from rocks.

In case something goes wrong with Perseverance before the Mars Sample Return lander reaches the planet, the samples being sent out today will serve as a backup. In that instance, the lander would land close to where Perseverance had dropped samples, and helicopters like the one accompanying the rover right now, the Ingenuity Marscopter, would fly in and collect them.

A Boyle
A Boyle
I cover Science related topics for The National Era
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