NASA Has Sent a Spacecraft to Observe a Dead Robot on Mars to See How It Collects Dust

  • The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter probe recently photographed the InSight Lander.

  • The lander’s power rapidly declined after its solar panels accumulated too much dust. Now, scientists can use it for their studies on Mars.

No comments Twitter Flipboard E-mail

In December 2022, NASA’s InSight Lander sent its last photo (left) from the surface of Mars. Recently, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter probe has taken another image (right) from Mars orbit. These two images show the same location but from different perspectives.

Can you spot InSight? “The retired lander was recently spotted by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter,” NASA shared on X on May 6.

“By studying InSight’s landing site over time, scientists can see how quickly dust accumulates, which helps estimate the age of other surface disturbances.”

The loneliest drill on Mars. InSight, unlike the rovers wandering around the Red Planet and the probes orbiting it, was equipped with a seismometer and a drill to explore the subsurface from a fixed point on Mars.

The InSight Lander touched down on November 26, 2018 in a region called Elysium Planitia. Throughout its mission, it detected over 1,300 seismic events, providing valuable insights into the size and composition of Mars’ core, mantle, and crust.

Despite its achievements, InSight faced challenges with its drilling operations. Originally designed to penetrate up to 16 feet into the Martian surface, the drill encountered denser soil than anticipated, limiting its excavation depth to just a few inches.

The bright side of accumulating dust. The InSight mission faced another major challenge due to the rapid accumulation of dust on its solar panels. Unlike the nuclear-powered Perseverance and Curiosity rovers, InSight relied on its photovoltaic cells.

Unfortunately, the rover eventually lost power-generating capacity because of the dust and ceased operations in late 2022 when its batteries died. In the most recent photo taken from Mars orbit, you can see its two circular solar arrays deployed next to its robot body.

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter probe has been closely monitoring InSight’s “postmortem” evolution. This spacecraft has been orbiting Mars for 18 years, searching for evidence of water and studying other features of the Red Planet.

Dust ultimately caused InSight’s demise, but studying its evolution from orbit may help scientists better understand Martian dynamics.

Image | NASA/JPL

Home o Index