NASA's Marsquake hunting mission to last only till December

Washington, May 19 (IANS) NASA’s InSight Mars lander, known to hunt for quakes on the Red Planet, is set to shut down by December as it is losing power due to dusty solar panels, according to the mission officials.

InSight (short for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport), which landed on Mars on November 26, 2018, has thus far detected more than 1,300 marsquakes. Most recently, it detected a magnitude 5 that occurred on May 4 – and located quake-prone regions of the Red Planet.

“NASA’s InSight Mars lander is gradually losing power and is anticipated to end science operations later this summer,” the NASA said in a statement.

“By December, InSight’s team expects the lander to have become inoperative, and concluding the mission,” it added.

The information gathered by InSight from the quakes has allowed scientists to measure the depth and composition of Mars’ crust, mantle, and core. Additionally, InSight has recorded invaluable weather data and studied remnants of Mars’ ancient magnetic field.

“InSight has transformed our understanding of the interiors of rocky planets and set the stage for future missions,” said Lori Glaze, Director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division, in the statement.

“We can apply what we’ve learned about Mars’ inner structure to Earth, the Moon, Venus, and even rocky planets in other solar systems,” Glaze added.

Equipped with a pair of solar panels that each measures about 2.2 metres wide, InSight was initially designed for nearly two Earth years. The mission was then extended, and its solar panels have been producing less power as they continue to accumulate dust.

When InSight landed, the solar panels produced around 5,000 watt-hours each Martian day, or sol – enough to power an electric oven for an hour and 40 minutes. Now, they’re producing roughly 500 watt-hours per sol – enough to power the same electric oven for just 10 minutes.

In addition, over the next few months, there will be more dust in the air, reducing sunlight – and the lander’s energy. Energy is being prioritised for the lander’s seismometer, which will operate at select times of day, such as at night, when winds are low and marsquakes are easier for the seismometer to “hear”. The seismometer itself is expected to be off by the end of summer, concluding the science phase of the mission.

At that point, the lander will still have enough power to operate, taking the occasional picture and communicating with Earth. But the team expects that around December, “power will be low enough that one day InSight will simply stop responding”.



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