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NASA’s Mars InSight lander counts down its final moments as dust continues to coat its solar panels. This week, the team behind InSight took the opportunity to capture one last InSight selfie. The resulting image stands in stark contrast to the first or even second selfies the lander took throughout its mission.
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This is the last InSight selfie we’re likely to see
The Red Planet is gradually heading into a dusty winter, and NASA’s InSight Lander is about to say goodbye. The lander, which has been measuring the planet’s seismic activity since 2018, is slowly depleting.
It’s a sad time for Mars exploration, especially as InSight has measured some of the strongest earthquakes to date in recent months. Still, saying goodbye to the Martian lander is part of exploring other planets. Built to rely on solar power, there were always problems with dust accumulating on the solar panels.
But, it’s unclear if NASA expected it to accumulate as quickly as it did. Before the lander is completely offline, NASA plans to place its arm in a “retreat” resting position. Along the way, the team also decided to capture one last InSight selfie to say goodbye to the iconic explorer. Now the space agency has shared this image with the public.
A dusty death
We’ve known for a while that the end of InSight was coming sooner rather than later. Despite this, NASA had no real plan to save InSight from demise. Instead, the agency hoped that a whirlwind or very strong gust could blow some of the dust away from the solar panels. Now that such a thing seems unlikely, it’s only a matter of time before the batteries run out completely.
Comparing the latest InSight selfie with other images of the lander shows stark contrast. Even when it landed in 2018, the lander was already starting to gather dust. That’s because Mars is just a naturally dusty place. And, with each passing floor, more dust has accumulated on these panels.
If nothing else, though, this latest InSight selfie may serve as a good refresher for future projects. Current Mars explorers like the Perseverance rover depend on nuclear power instead of solar power. While Solar is somewhat more self-sufficient, the dusty nature of the Red Planet limits its true effectiveness. As such, relying on nuclear power in the future could be the key to making another lander like InSight that can last.
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