InSight: NASA's Mars rover delivers what could be its final message

The rover detected more than 1,300 marsquakes on the Red planet.
Ayesha Gulzar
Last image sent by the InSight lander from Mars


Nasa's InSight lander is in the final stages of its lifespan. On Monday, 19th December, the lander delivered what is most likely its last message and picture from the Red planet, where it has been on a history-making mission for over four years (and 24 days at the time of writing).

On Monday, a tweet shared by NASA's InSight team read, "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."

The spacecraft's power supply has been declining due to windblown dust accumulating on its solar panels. Earlier this summer, the lander had so little remaining power that the mission turned off all of InSight's other science instruments to keep the seismometer running.

The team even turned off the fault protection system that would otherwise automatically shut down the seismometer if the system detected that the lander's power generation is dangerously low.

InSight: NASA's Mars rover delivers what could be its final message
A message shared on the Nasa InSight Twitter account

More than 1,300 marsquakes on the Red planet

InSight, short for (Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy, and Heat Transport) was launched in May 2018 to study Mars's interior in unprecedented detail. On November 2018, the lander touched down on Elysium Planitia, a plain at the Martian equator.

Since then, it has detected more than 1,300 marsquakes, the largest measuring a magnitude of five. It even recorded quakes from meteoroid impacts. Observing how the seismic waves from those quakes change as they travel through the planet offers an invaluable glimpse into Mars' interior.

It also provided a better understanding of how all rocky worlds, including Earth and its moon, form.

Additionally, InSight helped to confirm that the planet's crust was thinner than previously believed. That is 15-25 miles (25-40 kilometers thick), and made up of three layers. Seismic waves traveling through the upper mantle reached a depth of about 497 miles (800 kilometers) before bouncing back to the surface.

The lander also collected exhaustive weather data, which was more comprehensive than any mission before it. It sensed winds, observed dust storms, recorded turbulence, and infrasound.

Declaring the mission over

The InSight team is looking at several tasks before the lander goes completely radio silent. This includes preserving data and making it accessible to researchers.

NASA will declare the mission over when InSight misses two consecutive communication sessions with the spacecraft orbiting Mars. According to NASA, "there will be no heroic measures to re-establish contact with InSight."

InSight is not the only lander on Mars.

There are currently multiple landers, rovers, and orbiters on Mars to explore and study the planet. For instance, NASA's Perseverance rover is looking for signs of past microbial life on Mars and is collecting samples for future return to Earth.

The mission also includes a small helicopter called Ingenuity that successfully demonstrated powered flight on another planet for the first time.

European Space Agency's (ESA) mission, called the Mars Express, consists of two parts, the Orbiter and Beagle 2, a lander designed to perform exobiology and geochemistry research.

Other missions on Mars include NASA/JPL's Mars Odyssey, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), and the ESA/Roscosmos collaboration ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter.

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