On Mars, InSight is at the mercy of a continent-sized storm

A massive Martian storm could pose a threat to the InSight mission. NASA monitors the evolution of the situation, from the sky of Mars.

A dust storm the size of a continent swirls around Mars. NASA is closely following the situation, since, 3,500 km away, one of its robots has been sent to the red planet. This is InSight, whose mission should come to an end at the end of 2022.

The InSight team is taking steps to keep the solar-powered lander running for as long as possible. », cleared up NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory on Twitter on October 7. The space agency recalls that the mission recently experienced a power outage. InSight’s solar panels have gradually become covered in dust, posing power problems. The new storm adds to this already tense situation.

The beige clouds are the storm seen by MRO. // Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

The storm that poses a risk to InSight is being monitored from above Mars using the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). The ship first saw this phenomenon on September 21. At the moment, NASA reassures saying that the storm ” had little impact on the lander “. He adds that according to the data collected by MRO, the storm has already reached its peak and entered a phase of decline. It is the third such storm recorded this year.

InSight’s seismometer remains off for 2 weeks on Mars

However, the space agency indicates that on October 3, ” the storm had grown large enough and kicked up so much dust that the thickness of the dusty haze in the Martian atmosphere had increased by almost 40% around InSight As a result, the mission’s solar arrays were exposed to even less sunlight. The power available for InSight then went from 425 watt hours per Martian day to 275 watt hours (i.e., the power available was reduced to nearly the half).

At the current discharge rate, the lander could only operate for several weeks. says NASA. Therefore, to save energy, it was decided to turn off one of InSight’s main instruments, its seismometer, for 2 weeks, whereas previously it was on 24 hours a day for two.

The presence of this storm is a great challenge for the mission. If InSight survives this weather event, it will be able to continue operating for some time. However, we are not immune to another storm that comes next.

Find all our news about a Planet

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *