After a long struggle with Martian dust, NASA’s InSight probe has fallen silent

After a long struggle with Martian dust, NASA’s InSight probe has fallen silent

Zoom in / This is probably the last image taken by InSight on the surface of Mars and relayed to Earth.


NASA’s InSight lander has likely called home for the last time from the planet Mars.

The space agency said the spacecraft did not respond to communications from Earth on Sunday, December 18. The lack of communications occurred as the lander’s power-generating capacity has been declining in recent months due to the buildup of Martian dust on its solar panels. NASA said it “assumes” InSight has reached the end of its operations, but will continue to try to contact the lander in the coming days.

Also on Monday, InSight’s Twitter account shared a photo with a message saying it was likely the last photo it was sending back from Mars.

InSight landed on Mars in 2018 with the goal of studying seismic activity. It’s been a success: InSight has detected more than 1,300 earthquakes, including a relatively strong 4.7-magnitude earthquake on May 4. This was the largest earthquake detected so far and at the upper limit of what scientists expected to observe. This seismic activity has allowed scientists to find out details about the internal structure of the red planet.

However, during its operations on Mars, dust has constantly accumulated on the solar panels of the stationary lander. As of May 2022, the panels were producing just 500 watt-hours of power, a tenth of what they could generate by landing on Mars. Since then, its power levels have steadily declined to the point where InSight doesn’t have the juice to return to Earth.

Saying goodbye to spacecraft like InSight is always difficult. Humans send these robotic probes into the frigid depths of the Solar System to increase our scientific understanding. During this time, they shine for several years. And then, they leave.

Look, I’m not sure why your eyes are watering. But speaking for myself, this is Martian dust that brings tears to my eyes. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

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