The Mars lander InSight photographed an austere Martian sunrise earlier this week. The probe has called Mars home since 2018 and has taken thousands of images during its time there, while also collecting some fascinating scientific data on the planet’s geology.
“I’ll never tire of sunrise on Mars,” InSight’s official Twitter account posted. “Each morning, that distant dot climbs higher in the sky, giving me energy for another round of listening to the rumbles beneath my feet.”
Why is the Sun so important to InSight?
Sunlight is crucial to InSight’s day-to-day (or should I say sol-to-sol) activities. The rover features two 2.13 m-wide solar panels that generate approximately 3,000 watt-hours per Martian day. InSight is so reliant on its solar panels to function that it landed near the equator to maximise the amount of light it can receive.
All that sunshine is powering planetary research. InSight actually stands for “Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport,” and it features a suite of instruments designed to study the geologic history and interior of the planet.
First, InSight placed a seismometer on the Martian surface to detect any “marsquakes,” the data from which should allow scientists to develop a 3D model of Mars’ interior. Its radio communication system is also sending precise data on Mars’ rotation and wobble back to Earth. Results from InSight’s mission could shed more light on how the rocky interior planets of the solar system formed.
How is the InSight mission going?
InSight has been active on Mars for three years and 140 days, and it has definitely hit a few snags. The heat probe, or Mole, was to be a major part of the mission, but NASA had to axe the project after two years of failed digging attempts.
Recently, excessive dust had settled across the solar panels, putting the whole mission in jeopardy. On the bright side, it seems that power levels have stabilised. Here’s hoping things will continue successfully through at least December 2022, the currently planned retirement for the probe.