This is likely the final photo that NASA's Mars InSight lander will ever send back to Earth. The robot has been snapping pics and gathering data about the Martian environment since landing on the planet in November 2018 — and it's been steadily accumulating dust on its solar panels that entire time. As NASA predicted earlier this year, the layer of debris has finally become too thick for the solar panels to operate. The InSight Twitter account officially said goodbye on December 19th with a final image from the surface of Mars.
"My power’s really low, so this may be the last image I can send," the tweet reads. "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."
You're welcome, metal astronaut.
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. pic.twitter.com/wkYKww15kQ
— NASA InSight (@NASAInSight) December 19, 2022
InSight touched down on Mars on November 26th, 2018. It set up a seismometer on the Martian surface and collected data about marsquakes, which helped NASA scientists compile a clearer picture of the planet's interior structure. Over the past four years, InSight provided data on more than 500 quakes and at least one meteoroid impact. From these reports, NASA researchers concluded Mars' core is about half the size of Earth's and likely composed of lighter elements than previously thought.
NASA announced in May 2022 that InSight would likely go dark by the end of the summer, due to the dust settling on the lander's solar panels. InSight had recently celebrated its fourth anniversary on Mars when it stopped communicating with NASA. In a blog update on December 19th, the agency said the following:
"On Dec. 18, 2022, NASA’s InSight did not respond to communications from Earth. The lander’s power has been declining for months, as expected, and it’s assumed InSight may have reached its end of operations. It’s unknown what prompted the change in its energy; the last time the mission contacted the spacecraft was on Dec. 15, 2022. The mission will continue to try and contact InSight."