Mars: the InSight probe is voluntarily covered with sand, NASA explains

The InSight space probe has just performed a strange maneuver on the surface of Martian soil. The craft, which took off on May 5, 2018 to land on the planet’s surface on November 26, 2018, voluntarily covered itself with sand. In a statement, NASA explains why it was such a surprising and useful maneuver.

Mars NASA InSight
Mars, NASA InSight, artist’s impression

The InSight space probe has been deployed on the planet Mars since November 2018. Its mission is simple: to study the internal structure of the red planet, whose characteristics are poorly understood. Its ultimate goal will be to reconstruct the history of the planet, with a lot of data that NASA hopes to collect. A few days ago, the space probe was voluntarily covered with sand. But why is that?

On Mars, InSight voluntarily covers itself with sand, NASA explains

As NASA explains, the robotic lander was covered with a thick pile of dust that was blocking its solar panels. Indeed, the red planet is stirred by intense and regular sandy winds. A particularly harmful feature for the solar panels of the machine, which simply need to receive sunlight to operate.

In fact, InSight’s situation had been getting worse for over a year. Indeed, Mars is about to reach its aphelia, its farthest point from the Sun. In other words, sunlight is increasingly scarce on the surface. In order to save energy, NASA operators were forced to turn off most equipment some time ago.

See also: Mars: Admire These Weird Bright Clouds Caught By Curiosity

A few days ago, NASA engineers found themselves forced to act. They have as well forced the device to dig up and then deposit sand on its solar panels. A counter-intuitive maneuver which will nevertheless have allowed the sand and the wind to drive away some of the dust and micro-debris present on the solar panels of the probe. The result is clear since NASA evokes a gain of about 30 watt hours of energy per Martian day.

As stated by NASA, this “ power increase should delay instrument shutdown for a few weeks, saving valuable time for collecting additional scientific data “. The agency details the maneuver at this address as well as in video (below).

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