It's been a rough few weeks on Mars for NASA's InSight lander. After overcoming a major hurdle and getting its drill running again a few weeks ago, a new problem has arisen - its heat probe has popped right out of the soil.
In March this year, a part of the drill known as "the mole" became stuck in the tough soil, making it impossible to move. To free it, the drill package was moved as far from the lander as possible and using the lander's robotic arm to push the drill against the soil in a move known as "pinning."
That seemed to work and the drill started moving again earlier this month. However, Mars isn't ready to give up its secrets just yet, and NASA has announced that the mole has been ejected from the ground.
Mars continues to surprise us. While digging this weekend the mole backed about halfway out of the ground. Preliminary assessment points to unexpected soil properties as the main reason. Team looking at next steps. #SaveTheMole #Teamwork pic.twitter.com/UURvU8VTwZ— NASA InSight (@NASAInSight) October 27, 2019
In a blog post, NASA explained that the mole "has backed about halfway out of its hole this past weekend," likely due to the soil conditions. That means the team now needs to calculate whether they can move the robotic arm away from the mole, so they can see what's going on with the soil in more detail.
It's not all bad news for InSight, however. The lander's Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) instrument is collecting data on the marsquakes which shake the planet's interior which can help scientists learn about the interior structure of Mars, and there are even audio recordings of the sounds of the planet you can listen to.
The InSight team will continue testing ways to save the stuck drill. "One possibility observed in testing on Earth is that soil could fall in front of the mole's tip as it rebounds, gradually filling the hole in front of it as the mole backs out," they said on Twitter. They will announce their new plan for the drill in the next few days.