After four years of service on Mars, NASA‘s InSight lander has officially retired. The InSight mission was started in 2018 to measure the heat flow within Mars and to collect data on seismic activity under the surface of the Red Planet. The lander has run out of power and reached a state that engineers refer to as a “dead bus”. InSight’s operators on Earth were no longer able to make contact with it after two consecutive attempts. The lander will spend its retirement years on the Martian surface, covered in dust.
On Tuesday, the InSight lander posted the last image it captured along with a message on Twitter that said, “My power’s really low, so this may be the last image I can send. Don’t worry about me though: my time here has been both productive and serene. If I can keep talking to my mission team, I will – but I’ll be signing off here soon. Thanks for staying with me.”
NASA said that it will continue to listen for a signal from the lander, adding “but hearing from it at this point is considered unlikely”. The last communication with InSight was on December 15.
The lander’s highly sensitive seismometer has collected details about Mars’ interior layers, the weather around the part of Mars where InSight landed, and lots of quake activity. It measured its first marsquakes in early 2019, and in over four years, InSight witnessed 1319 quakes, ranging from quakes caused by meteoroid impacts to powerful rumbles caused by grinding rocks underground. One of the detected quakes earlier this year was the equivalent of a magnitude 5 earthquake. The collected information will help scientists to determine the age of the planet’s surface and to study the planet’s crust, mantle, and core.
The InSight lander also had a self-hammering spike – nicknamed “the mole” – that was supposed to dig deep inside Mar’s surface to measure the heat inside. However, it to failed to burrow into the unexpectedly clumpy Martial soil around InSight. Eventually, the instrument buried its hammer just slightly below the surface and collected data on the physical and thermal properties of the Martian soil along the way.
In April, NASA decided to extend the mission until the end of this year — or until the lander ran out of power, whichever came first. “We’ve thought of InSight as our friend and colleague on Mars for the past four years, so it’s hard to say goodbye,” said Bruce Banerdt, the mission’s principal investigator, in a press release. “But it has earned its richly deserved retirement,” he added.