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Mars: A massive storm is about to deal the final blow to the Insight spacecraft

Mars: A massive storm is about to deal the final blow to the Insight spacecraft

For some time there was talk of an imminent cessation of Mars operations before Lander Insightwith forecasts indicating a halt in available power between the cycle month and January 2023. However, NASA’s rover is still active on Mars and these days is observing A sandstorm the size of a continent It hovers over the southern hemisphere of the red planet.

The storm was first spotted on September 21, 2022 by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), located about 3,500 kilometers from InSight and initially had little impact on the probe. We know this because the mission team is closely monitoring the probe’s power level, which has been steadily declining for several months due to dust accumulating on its solar panels.

We arrive on Monday October 3rd, when the storm has grown more and Dust in the atmosphere increased by nearly 40% Also near InSight. With less sunlight reaching the craft’s panels, its power dropped even more, from 425 watt-hours per Martian day, or Sol, to just 275 watt-hours per Martian day. Given the current situation, it was decided to further limit the operation of the InSight seismometer, which has been operating every day since October 6.

But the material does not change and therefore the decrease in solar energy does not leave enough daily charging capacity At the current discharge rate, the lander may only be able to operate for a few more weeks.

So it was decided that to save energy, mission leaders would turn off the InSight seismometer for the next two weeks. This is the commentary on the move by Chuck Scott of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, InSight project manager.

“We were at the bottom of our ladder when it came to power. We are now on the ground floor. If we can get past this, we can keep working in the winter, but I will worry about the next coming storm.”

The probe passed its primary mission a long time ago and is now nearing the end of its extended mission, carrying out scientific operations of great importance, like seismographsThanks to that, we are learning more and more about the geology of the Red Planet. And not only that, the analysis of the explanatory data also allowed us to identify meteorite impacts, which were then confirmed thanks to satellite observations. We also recorded the sound of vibrations perceived by the lander’s seismometer, and more details follow.

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But there seem to be positive signs that the storm is progressing After reaching the peak, it entered the decay stage: MRO’s Mars Climate Sounder instrument, which measures warming caused by dust absorbing sunlight, sees storm growth slowing.

This regional storm did not surprise NASA, in fact it is the third of its kind this year. Events of this type occur at any time of the Martian year, but the largest usually occur during the fall or winter, and the latter is now in its final stages.

But we don’t have to imagine anything Hollywood-style MartianDust storms on Mars have never been so violent or dramatic. It is true that winds can blow at speeds of up to 100 kilometers per hour, but the atmosphere of Mars is thin enough that it has only a fraction of the strength of Earth’s storms. Storms often cause problems here due to their longevity and the poor relationship that dust has with electronic components. Martian storms throw large amounts of dust into the air, which slowly descends to Earth, often over a period of weeks. On rare occasions, scientists have seen dust storms transform into global events that surround the planet and cover nearly all of Mars. Only one planetary dust storm ended NASA’s Opportunity spacecraft in 2018, and it was powered by solar panels like Insight.

But as he has repeated many times, media such as Curiosity and perseverance NASA has nothing to worry about because it’s nuclear powered, so, except for electronics issues, it shouldn’t suffer from a power shortage. A separate case is represented by the Ingenuity helicopter, which is powered not only by solar energy, but has very small panels, an electronic circuit with less protection and batteries of lower capacity.

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At the moment everything is working properly but during the last flight, number 33, NASA noticed debris flying away thanks to footage captured by NavCam. It cannot be ruled out that the event is closely related to the storm that we have described to you.