Story at a glance:
- InSight’s solar panels are accumulating too much dust, preventing the lander from charging its batteries.
- Mars will swing back towards the sun in July, so InSight needs to survive the Martian winter until then.
- InSight itself is still in good condition.
NASA's InSight Mars lander has to conserve its batteries, otherwise it will die on Mars.
InSight is powered by solar energy, which it absorbs through a two-meter panel. However, Mars’s unpredictable weather — recently a lack of wind where InSight resides — are threatening the lander’s lifespan.
Powerful gusts of wind, known as “cleaning events” are needed to blow Martian dust off InSight’s solar panels, Business Insider reports. But these winds have not been sweeping Elysium Planitia, where Insight is, and a thick layer of dust has accumulated on the lander and it cannot charge properly, Yahoo News reported.
InSight is receiving 27 percent of the power of its normal charge.
The robot is in good condition and it is still able to function its moving arm, but it runs the risk of causing a potential fatal power failure, and if batteries die, so will InSight.
NASA has been incrementally turning off different instruments on the lander, and InSight will soon go into hibernation mode. The lander will have to survive the planet’s winter until July 2021 when Mars swings closer to the sun.
"The amount of power available over the next few months will really be driven by the weather," Chuck Scott of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California and InSight's project manager said.
“We would be hopeful that we’d be able to bring it back to life, especially if it’s not asleep or dead for a long period of time,” Bruce Banerdt, InSight’s principal investigator, told Insider. “But that would be a dicey situation.”
"As part of our extended-mission planning, we developed an operations strategy to keep InSight safe through the winter so that we can resume science operations as solar intensity increases," he continued.
READ MORE STORIES FROM CHANGING AMERICA