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NASA's Insight Mars Lander Is 'in Crisis', And Has Entered Emergency Hibernation

NASA's Insight Mars Lander Is 'in Crisis', And Has Entered Emergency

NASA's $800 million Mars lander is in an energy crisis.

InSight, which landed in a Martian plain called Elysium Planitia in 2018, has detected more than 500 Mars quakes, felt more than 10,000 dust devils pass by, and started to measure the planet's core.

But over the past few months, InSight has been fighting for its life as the red planet's unpredictable weather threatens to snuff out the robot.

Unlike other sites where NASA has sent rovers and landers – including the landing spot of the new Perseverance rover and its Mars helicopter – powerful gusts of wind have not been sweeping Elysium Planitia.

These winds, called "cleaning events," are needed to blow the red Martian dust off the solar panels of NASA's robots. Without their help, a thick layer of dust has accumulated on InSight, and it's struggling to absorb sunlight.

InSight's solar panels were producing just 27 percent of their energy capacity in February, when winter was arriving in Elysium Planitia.

So NASA decided to put the lander in "hibernation mode," switching off different instruments each day. Soon the robot will shut down all functions that aren't necessary for its survival.

By pausing its scientific operations, the lander should be able to save enough power to keep its systems warm through the frigid Martian nights, when temperatures can drop to negative-130 degrees Fahrenheit.

"The amount of power available over the next few months will really be driven by the weather," Chuck Scott, InSight's project manager, said in a statement.

Now almost halfway through its expected hibernation period, InSight is still in good condition, but the risk of a potentially fatal power failure is ever-present. If the lander's batteries die, it might never recover.

"We would be hopeful that we'd be able to bring it back 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."

The agency expects to restart InSight's full operations after Mars swings back toward the sun in July. If it can survive this Martian winter, the lander could keep listening for quakes and tracking weather into 2022.

Source Science Alert

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