NASA’s Mars InSight mission has died after 4 years of listening for earthquakes

NASA’s Mars InSight mission has died after 4 years of listening for earthquakes

NASA’s Mars InSight spacecraft has died.

For months, those responsible for the mission have been waiting for it like accumulated dust on the lander’s solar panels, blocking the sunlight the stationary spacecraft needs to generate power.

InSight, what reached the surface of Mars more than four years ago measure the seismological tremor of the red planethe was last in touch on December 15th. But nothing was heard during the last two communication attempts, and NASA announced Wednesday that it was unlikely to hear from InSight again.

“I feel sad, but I also feel pretty good,” Bruce Banerdt, the mission’s principal investigator at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in an interview. “We’ve been waiting for this to end for a long time.”

He added: “I think it’s been a great run.”

InSight, the name is a compression of the mission’s full name, Interior Exploration through Seismic Investigations, Geodesy, and Heat Transport, was a departure from NASA’s better-known rover missions, focusing on the mysteries of the deep interior of Mars instead of searching water signs i possible extinct life on the red planet The $830 million mission aimed to answer questions about the planet’s structure, composition and geological history.

Mars does not have plate tectonics, the sliding of pieces of crust that shape our planet’s surface. However, earthquakes do occur, driven by other stresses such as shrinking and cracking of the crust as it cools.

The last year of the mission was particularly intense, as their instruments detected vibrations of a major space rock, 15 to 40 feet in diameter, hit Mars 2,000 miles away from the spacecraft on Christmas Eve last year. NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter was then able to photograph the new crater and chunks of subsurface ice that were thrown to the surface by the impact. That discovery of ice was closer to the equator than any previously observed, a potential resource for future astronauts.

In May, InSight measured a magnitude 4.7 earthquake, the largest of the mission.

The spacecraft’s seismometer lived up to scientists’ expectations. It was the first time earthquakes had been detected on another planet. (It was not, however, the first detection of earthquakes outside of Earth. During the Apollo missions, NASA astronauts placed seismometers on the Moon and these recorded numerous earthquakes.)

Seismic waves bouncing around Mars’ interior essentially provided a sonogram of the planet, offering new details about the crust, mantle and core.

This was the biggest result of the mission, said Dr. Banerdt, “to map the planet’s deep interior.”

The crust beneath InSight turned out to be thinner than expected, between 15 and 25 miles. The red planet’s core is still molten, a bit of a surprise to scientists because Mars is much smaller than Earth. The core is also larger than expected (1,120 miles in diameter) and less dense than expected, pointing to lighter elements mixed in with the iron. These elements would lower the melting point, which could help explain why the core is not solid.

The geological structure helps scientists understand how quickly heat is leaking from Mars, which helps them reconstruct what the surface might have looked like a few billion years ago and how habitable it might have been the surface then.

“We broke new ground and our science team can be proud of everything we’ve learned along the way,” said Philippe Lognonné of the Institut de Physique du Globe in Paris, principal investigator of the InSight seismometer, in a statement from NASA.

However, a second instrument, which was designed to dig 16 feet underground, was never able to go much below the surface, thwarted by unexpectedly thick soil. The device, nicknamed “the mole”, was supposed to measure the flow of heat coming from the deep interior of Mars.

“It was a big disappointment,” Dr. Banerdt said.

Other InSight instruments measured Martian weather and the remnants of an ancient magnetic field preserved in rocks.

Dr. Banerdt said it was still possible that InSight could come back to life, especially if one of the small dust demon cyclones that move across the Martian landscape passes over the spacecraft and clears the dust.

If the solar panels are able to charge the batteries, InSight would try to reboot and make contact again. Radio transmissions from a revived InSight could show up as interference in communications sent from other NASA spacecraft to Mars.

“If we start to see this signal consistently, that would tell us that maybe InSight is back in business,” Dr Banerdt said.

As InSight comes to an end, one of NASA’s other active spacecraft on the surface of Mars, the Perseverance rover, is setting the stage for a future mission. this 10 tubes have started to fall to the ground which contain rock samples about the size of a plaster stick.

Perseverance has been drilling a variety of rocks in the Jezero crater where it landed. A follow-up mission still in the planning stages, Mars Sample Return, is to bring the rocks back to Earth for scientists to sample. they study in their laboratories.

The rover is still carrying other tubes (for the rocks drilled so far, two samples have been drilled) and the plan is for the rover to take the sample tubes to the Mars Sample Return probe.

The samples being dropped to the ground now are essentially a backup in case something goes wrong with Perseverance before the Mars Sample Return lander gets there. In this case, the plan would be for the terminator to land near the samples that Perseverance had already dropped and then helicopters, similar to the Ingenuity Marscopter which currently accompanies the rover, would retrieve the samples.

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