By now, it’s a familiar view of Mars: A distant horizon strewn with rocks while, up close, a domed seismometer, a robotic arm and other instruments sit covered in red dust. But this view from a NASA lander just might be its last.
The photo is from NASA’s InSight Mars lander, which for months has been starved of power as its solar arrays get increasingly caked with Martian dust. Soon, the lander won’t have enough power to snap selfies on Mars, let alone phone home.
“My power’s really low, so this may be the last image I can send,” NASA wrote as the InSight lander while sharing the image on Twitter (opens in new tab) Monday (Dec. 19). “Don’t worry about me, though: my time here has been both productive and serene.”
Related: NASA’s InSight Mars lander: 10 surprising facts
NASA launched the Mars lander InSight (its name is short for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) in May 2018, with the lander touching down on the plains of the Elysium Planitia in November of that year.
InSight’s mission was ambitious: To understand the interior of Mars like never before by using a seismometer to measure marsquakes and burrow a heat probe (nicknamed the “mole”) beneath the Martian surface. The heat probe, however, was never able to get deep enough to meet its goals.
Still, InSight succeeded in tracking marsquakes, with scientists even this week announcing it detected its biggest quake on Mars ever. InSight has detected more than 1,300 marsquakes since it landed in 2018.
Yet over the last four years, dust has built up on the lander’s large, round solar arrays, limiting the amount of power InSight could generate over time. InSight completed its primary two-year mission in 2020, with NASA granting an extension through December 2022 if the lander could live that long. The lander is now generating just 20% of the power it had after landing.
Last month, NASA gave the InSight lander just weeks to live on Mars.
“If I can keep talking to my mission team, I will — but I’ll be signing off here soon,” InSight’s Twitter post on Monday read. “Thanks for staying with me.”