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NASA's Mars InSight lander snaps dusty 'final selfie' as power dwindles

InSight's 'final selfie' of April 24, 2022, shows a solar-powered lander caked in Martian dust.
InSight's 'final selfie' of April 24, 2022, shows a solar-powered lander caked in Martian dust. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

NASA's InSight lander is completely caked with a thick layer of Martian dust in its latest selfie, which the agency says will likely be the last of the mission.

The solar-powered InSight lander is only working at about one-tenth of its landing capacity of 5,000 watt-hours, the agency said in a press conference May 17, and the new picture shows just how much regolith has piled up in the last three and a half Earth years. InSight, a marsquake-seeking lander, alighted on the surface in 2018 on a bid to better understand the interior of Mars. While the data collected by the mission will be available forever, the spacecraft is winding down science activities to preserve power as best as possible.

The new image, released (opens in new tab) Monday (May 23), shows regolith all over InSight in a selfie taken on April 24, the 1,211th sol (Martian day) of the mission.

Related: NASA's InSight lander detects the biggest quake on Mars yet

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These before-and-after images show NASA's InSight Mars lander just after its 2018 landing (left) and in May 2022, where dust on its solar arrays has cut its power levels to just one-tenth what they were at the mission's start. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Still, the agency says InSight will likely run too low on power later this year to conduct new science. But the mission's science value is signaled by the agency's extensions to its work; the lander's primary mission lasted one Martian year, or nearly two Earth years.

InSight didn't include a secondary system to clean off dust, relying instead on passing dust devils or strong breezes to clean the lander. Engineers did manage to remove a bit of dust in 2021 by drizzling sand on the lander and allowing wind to blow that sand across the panel, however.

With its likely final selfie accomplished, the lander will move its arm into a "retirement pose," an inverted V-shape. The marsquake-tracking device will run for a little while longer, but is expected to be turned off late in the summer.

That said, InSight might get lucky before that point. Its power may last a little longer than expected, or a passing breeze may finally push some of the dust away and allow the lander to squeak out a little more science later in the year.

"It's exceeded our expectations at just about every turn on Mars, and so it may actually last longer than that," Bruce Banerdt, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory's principal investigator for the mission, told reporters during the May 17 press conference.

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Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a contributing writer for Space.com (opens in new tab) since 2012. As a proud Trekkie and Canadian, she tackles topics like spaceflight, diversity, science fiction, astronomy and gaming to help others explore the universe. Elizabeth's on-site reporting includes two human spaceflight launches from Kazakhstan, and embedded reporting from a simulated Mars mission in Utah. She holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc (opens in new tab). in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, and a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University. Her latest book, NASA Leadership Moments, is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday.