NASA’s InSight probe may have called home for the last time since Mars.
The space agency said the spacecraft failed to respond to communications from Earth on Sunday, December 18. The misunderstanding came as the rover’s ability to generate electricity has declined in recent months due to Martian dust accumulating on its solar panels. NASA said Insight should have reached the end of its operations but will continue to attempt to contact the lander in the coming days.
Also Monday, the InSight Twitter account shared an image with a message saying it may have been the last image he sent back from Mars.
My power is really low, so this might be the last picture I can send. Don’t worry about me though: my time here has been productive and uneventful. If I can keep talking to my assignment team, I will – but I’m signing here soon. Thanks for staying with me. pic.twitter.com/wkYKww15kQ
—NASA InSight (@NASAInSight) December 19, 2022
InSight landed on Mars in 2018 to study seismic activity. And it worked — InSight detected more than 1,300 earthquakes, including a powerful 4.7-magnitude earthquake on May 4. It was the largest earthquake detected to date and at the extreme extreme of what scientists hope to monitor. This seismic activity has allowed scientists to discover details about the internal structure of the Red Planet.
However, during its operations on Mars, the fixed lander’s solar panels regularly accumulated dust. In May 2022, the panels produced only 500 watt-hours of electricity, a tenth of what they could generate when landing on Mars. Since then, its power levels have steadily declined to the point where InSight no longer has the juice to send a radio back to Earth.
It’s always hard to say goodbye to a spacecraft like InSight. Humans are sending these robotic probes into the frigid depths of the solar system to advance our scientific understanding. During this time, they shine brightly for a few years. Then they were gone.
Listen, I don’t know why water is leaking from your eyes. But as far as I’m concerned, the Martian dust brought tears to my eyes. This is my story and I stick to it.