Home Sciences Four years of dust end the ‘Insight’ mission on Mars

Four years of dust end the ‘Insight’ mission on Mars

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The mission landed the November 26, 2018. In its heyday, the ‘Insight’ solar panels produced enough power to power an electric oven for more than an hour and a half. Now she would barely make it turn on the oven for ten minutes. The module is The official diagnosis indicates that the module is “gradually losing power”. According to the scientific team responsible for this mission, everything indicates that ‘Insight’ will end its scientific mission towards the end of summer and in december will go out forever.

“The day the mission landed on Mars its days were already numbered”

Juan Ángel Vaquerizo, astrophysicist and science popularizer

The space odyssey of ‘Insight’ ends by blame the martian dust; the real enemy of the missions on the red planet. “The day the mission landed on Mars he already had his days numbered“, explains the astrophysicist and science communicator Juan Angel Vaquerizo. “Poor ‘Insight’ landed on a plain, Elysium Planitia; a fantastic place to study earthquakes but horrible to protect from dust. Also, she was unlucky enough to not catch any streak of ‘Martian wind’ to shake the dust off him,” says the scientist.

Bad luck

The excess martian dust It was also what in 2019 truncated the mission of the space jeep ‘Opportunity’ after more than 15 years of experience for the red planet. In that case, explains Vázquez, the space exploration vehicle achieved for years get rid of grit that accumulated on their solar panels. For example, yesclimbing hills Y taking advantage of the slope to shake off the dust. Their cleaning strategy It worked perfectly until one fine day a global dust storm left it completely entombed and without batteries.

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“With ‘Insight’ Several strategies have been tried. to get the dust off it”, explains the scientific communicator. For example, on one occasion the mechanical arm of the instrument was used to pick up a handful of martian dust and pour it over the hood of the seismograph on board to see if they could ‘clean’ the surface. “Unlike what happens on Earth, on Mars the sand does not cake. If you throw sand on sand, the dust runs off and falls,” says Vaquerizo. In the case of ‘Insight,’ however, the module structure itself caused the sand, far from sliding, to accumulate progressively to completely cover the solar panels.

If only a whirlwind had passed or gas close enough to get some sand off of it, maybe ‘Insight’ could have extended its mission a few more years,” says Vaquerizo. “It’s true that has had bad luck. But it is also true that Martian dust is very ‘bloody’ because it is so fine that it can infiltrate the circuits and it is very hard to get rid of“, Says the astrophysicist, author of ‘Mars and the enigma of life’.

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1,200 Martian days

The Martian adventure of ‘Insight’ comes to an end after more than 1,200 martian days. And although the outcome may break the hearts of many earthlings, it is also true that his path has extended much further than expected. ‘Insight’ took off from her mother planet, traveled for six months through the Solar System and landed on Mars with the aim of explore the red planet for two years. That was, originally, the useful life of the mission. The module, finally, has worked for more than four years. And it has been turned off only for a power supply problem.

“All missions are one opportunity to learn from mistakes and find alternative solutions. New generation Mars rovers like the ‘Perseverance’, for example, carry a small nuclear reactor on boardso even if they get dusty they can continue to work,” explains Vaquerizo. story of ‘Insight’Well, it looks like it will be over soon. But that of his fellow Martians continues.

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