Covered in dust and low on power, NASA’s InSight Mars lander captures its final selfie

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NASA’s InSight Mars lander reached the Martian surface on November 26, 2018. Since then, InSight, which stands for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport, has studied the interior of the Red Planet and gathered data that will help scientists better understand the formation of the rocky planet, and perhaps even better understand our own planet. Designed to monitor seismic activity, InSight has detected 1,300 ‘marsquakes’ during its mission. Over 1,200 days after landing on Mars, InSight is so covered in dust that its solar panels are no longer fully operational. NASA has put InSight into a low-power mode, but not before capturing one final selfie.

In NASA’s tweet below, a GIF shows the incredible transformation between InSight’s cleanliness in one of its first selfies in late 2018 and its final one. Mars is an awful dusty place, and it’s quite something to see such an expensive, sophisticated piece of equipment in such a state.

NASA anticipates that InSight’s scientific operations will conclude this summer and that by December, the lander will be inoperable. Darker skies on Mars by the end of the year are also a contributing factor. The solar panels currently produce about 10% of their original power output.

The image below was captured shortly before InSight put its robotic arm into its resting position, called the ‘retirement pose.’ The robotic arm has even helped keep dust off the 2.2m (7′) wide solar panels, which wasn’t an intended purpose. Even still, the lander is simply too dusty now.

‘InSight’s Dusty Solar Panel: InSight captured this image of one of its dust-covered solar panels on April 24, 2022, the 1,211th Martian day, or sol, of the mission.’ Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

The information gathered by InSight, including measurements of a recent magnitude 5 marsquake on May 4, has helped scientists measure the depth and composition of the Martian crust, mantle and core. The lander has also produced invaluable data on Martian weather and its 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. ‘We can apply what we’ve learned about Mars’ inner structure to Earth, the Moon, Venus, and even rocky planets in other solar systems.’

It remains possible that InSight will be the beneficiary of a lucky ‘dust devil’ to help blow the dust off its solar panels. However, the power levels are low enough now that NASA must prepare for the worst and try to gather as much additional data as possible. InSight’s instruments will rarely be powered on beyond this month, leading to its anticipated complete shutdown later this year.