InSight’s end, on Mars

InSight’s end, on Mars

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After four years of collecting data to discover the characteristics of the Martian interior, the probe insight NASA is out of business and is unlikely to return to Earth. As expected, the soft Martian sands over the years have covered the solar panels that power the rover’s batteries, and so it can’t have enough electrical power to power its own systems.

InSight sent back some data one last time on Dec. 15, but it did not respond to two subsequent attempts by NASA to get in touch. Accordingly, those in charge of the mission on Wednesday I finish It’s very unlikely that they’ll continue to hear from InSight, which will keep company with other Mars-sent robots over time. And who have now completed their tasks.

Since November 2018, InSight has proven invaluable in gathering data on the geological features of Mars, discovering earthquakes occur on the planet. Here on Earth, most seismic events are caused by the motions of “plates,” the large portions of the Earth’s crust that are constantly moving, moving apart and colliding with each other, with the motions caused in part by a rise in our internal temperature. planet. Mars is cooler and less turbulent: according to researchers, Martian earthquakes are caused by large temperature changes on the planet’s surface, which lead to expansion and contraction of rocks; Something similar has already been discovered in the past on the Moon, albeit on a different scale.

A seismograph in his protective case on Mars, part of the robotic arm he deposited on the surface (NASA)

Using its own seismograph and other tools, InSight also enabled discovery The earthquake caused by a meteor impact Its diameter is about ten meters, which would have fallen to the surface of Mars at a distance of about 3 thousand kilometers from the probe. In May, the robot instead measured a 4.7-magnitude earthquake, the most powerful earthquake ever detected during the mission.

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The meteor’s point of impact on Mars, which occurred on December 24, 2021, taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter in orbit around the planet (NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona)

Seismic waves have the ability to travel thousands of kilometres, and change as they pass through layers of rock of different densities. Therefore, studying them allows us to understand more about the properties of Mars and its internal structure. Thanks to data collected by InSight, researchers now believe that the Martian crust has an average thickness of 30 kilometers, less than initially expected. They also consider that nucleus Mars is liquid, has a diameter of 1,800 kilometers and is relatively thin, a condition that would seem to indicate the presence of elements other than iron.

Artist’s impression of the interior of Mars, the central part being the magma core (© IPGP – David Ducros)

By knowing the internal features of Mars, research teams can make more accurate estimates of how quickly the planet is losing heat in its surroundings. Based on these calculations, estimates of the surface temperature of Mars millions of years ago can then be made, to understand whether it was indeed as habitable as many researchers have assumed.

During its mission, InSight was also to use a tool to drill Martian soil to a depth of 5 meters. The probe was supposed to measure the planet’s core temperature, and provide more data on the Martian interior, but the instrument was unable to cross the first layers of soil, which were harder than expected in the area.

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Overall, the InSight mission was still a success: NASA’s typically conservative estimates called for a two-year lifespan for the lander, which instead proved capable of operating much longer. The gradual accumulation of sand on the solar panels was predicted and considered as one of the factors determining the duration of the mission. Only in the event of an unlikely windstorm, enough to remove a bit of sand from the solar panels, can InSight activate its systems again and communicate with Earth, one of the mission managers explained.

On Mars they remain active perseverance And the curiousityUnlike InSight, two NASA robots can move on the Martian soil to explore it. Perseverance has recently begun collecting some samples that will be retrieved by another space mission in the future, with the goal of bringing them back to Earth for analysis.

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