Even as several Mars missions continue to drive across the planet or probe it from orbit, another mission is signing off. Without a good sweeping by a dust devil, it’ll become a victim of dust — a fine orange powder that coats everything.
InSight arrived in November 2018. It’s not a rover, so it’s stayed in the same spot, in a plain called Elysium Planitia.
The craft has two major instruments. One is a seismometer. It’s recorded more than 1300 marsquakes. It heard the strongest on May 4th, at fifth magnitude. The quakes have helped scientists map the layers inside Mars. The crust is thinner than expected, while the core is bigger. The core is still molten, which means its iron must be mixed with other elements that melt at lower temperatures.
The other instrument was supposed to drill below the surface to measure the planet’s internal heat. It couldn’t penetrate the dirt, though, so it was abandoned.
InSight is powered by solar panels. Over the years, dust has collected on top of them. Engineers cleared some of it off, but not all. By May, the coating had reduced the craft’s power levels by 90 percent. So its instruments — including a weather station — are shutting down. Without a helping wind to clean it off, InSight should go silent later this year.
Look for Mars rising near the Moon after midnight. They’re high in the sky at first light. Mars looks like a bright orange star — colored by the dust that’s doomed Mars Insight.
Script by Damond Benningfield