The end is nigh for NASA’s InSight. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which manages the mission, recently announced that due to dust and the incoming harsh Martian winter, the industrious lander does not have enough power to continue its operation until the end of the extended mission in December. Now it has sent home its final selfie.
As Mars enters winter, dust season steps up a gear and the lander is losing the fight against it building up on its solar panels, its source of power.
Many of its scientific instruments have now been switched off and currently, only the seismometer is continuing to take data, something it is expected to do until late summer.
Now, JPL has also released the final selfie taken by the lander on April 24. InSight might take a few more images before it turns off its sensors forever but this will be its last selfie.
A comparison between this last selfie and the first one – taken in December 2018, not long after landing – gives an idea of just how much dust has covered the solar panel in the 1,201 sols, or Martian days, between the two images.
Dust is an occupational hazard for all of Mars's robotic population. China's Zhurong rover, already nine months over its original mission length, has hunkered down in hibernation to avoid the harsh Martian winter. Opportunity survived a huge dust storm that sent it to sleep back in 2018.
Since arriving on Mars, this isn't the first time InSight has been blighted by dust either. Previously, the mission team came up with a clever way to clean some of the dust off, by pouring sand from the lander’s robotic arm next to the solar panels to create a little breeze that would blow away the dust. This worked for a while but in the long run, Mars is a harsh and unforgiving environment. It was a situation that could only be delayed and not stopped.
The only hope is that a dust devil or an energetic gust of wind can shift some of the dust off and maybe allow a few more days of data collecting. Despite its current predicament, the InSight mission has outperformed its original mission of 709 sols by almost twice as much, delivering a precious new understanding of the interior of the Red Planet and measuring the strongest quake on Mars yet.