Dust is fatal to the lander – which showed, among other things, that Mars also sometimes trembles.

Marslander Insight has only a few months to live. NASA said in a statement. The lander, which has been exploring the internal structure of Mars for several years, is gradually losing power. And Insight is expected to throw in the towel by the end of the year.


The reason for the loss of power is the buildup of the dust on the lander’s solar panels. Insight is equipped with two solar panels, each about 2.2 meters wide. When the Mars lander arrived on Mars in November 2018, these solar panels produced about 5,000 watt-hours per Mars day – also called sol (1 Mars day corresponds to 1 Earth day and 39 min). For your imaging, that’s enough to power an electric oven for an hour and 40 minutes. But Mars is a dusty planet. And that dust has also settled on Insight’s solar panels. It means his solar panels now produce just 500 watt-hours per sol – enough to power the same electric oven for just 10 minutes.

One of Marslander Insight’s dust-covered solar panels. The photo was taken on April 24, 2022, the 1211th Mars day, or sol, of the mission. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech

In the coming time, the Marslander will lose more and more power and go out like a night candle. The scientific operations will therefore be terminated later this summer. By December of this year, the lander will likely be completely unusable. And then almost four years of exciting research will come to an end.

Insight’s mission

Team members can look back with pride on Insight’s mission, which exceeded all expectations. As mentioned, Marslander InSight set foot on Mars in 2018 and not long after placed a seismometer on the surface of the red planet. That seismometer has already registered more than 1,300 marsquakes. It means Insight has expanded our knowledge of Mars quite a bit. Because apparently earthquakes also occur frequently on neighboring planet Mars. At the beginning of this month, the lander even measured a Marsquake measuring five on the Richter Scale. This quake has gone down in history as the strongest quake ever recorded on any other planet.

Did you know…

…InSight has a drill with which it can also conduct research deep below the surface of Mars? With the help of this drill, NASA wanted to measure the temperature about five meters below the Martian surface and thus gain more insight into the amount of heat that still comes from the interior of Mars. However, that part of the InSight mission failed. In early 2021, NASA called it quits; drilling so deep turned out to be too difficult.

Insight’s mission has allowed scientists to study the depth and composition of Mars’ crust, mantle and core. “InSight has transformed our understanding of the interiors of rocky planets and paved the way for future missions,” said researcher Lori Glaze. “We can apply what we have learned about the inner structure of Mars to the Earth, the moon, Venus and even rocky planets in other solar systems.”


Incidentally, it is not the first time that a build-up of dust has been fatal to a Mars robot. For example, after a heavy dust storm, researchers were no longer able to contact Mars rover Opportunity. The only thing that can help in the case of Insight is a powerful whirlwind that blows the solar panels of the Mars lander clean. “We’ve seen this happen several times with the Spirit and Opportunity rovers as well,” said study researcher Bruce Banerdt. If just 25 percent of the InSight panels were wiped clean by the wind, the lander would gain about 1,000 watt-hours per sol — enough to continue collecting scientific data. “In fact, this is still possible,” Banerdt continues. “But Insight currently has so little energy that our focus is now on collecting scientific data while we still can.”

With no wind, the researchers expect the seismometer to stop working by the end of summer. At that point, the lander will still have enough power to occasionally take a picture and communicate with Earth. But by December, Insight will likely be so low on energy that the team will lose contact with the lander for good.