A Massive Dust Storm On Mars Is Wreaking Havoc With NASA's InSight Lander Mission

nasa insight mission
A dust storm 2,175 miles (3,500 kilometers) in size, has been wreaking a bit of havoc on NASA's InSight Mars lander. The storm was first spotted on September 21, 2022, by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). While the enormous storm did not have an immediate impact on the Mars lander, on October 3 the team noticed it had grown in intensity by nearly 40% around the Mars lander. This caused the lander to experience less sunlight reaching its solar panels, and a reduction in power.

Typically, Insight's seismometer had been operating for around 24 hours every other Martian day, called a sol. However, the recent loss of power has not left the spacecraft with enough energy to completely charge its batteries every sol. This drain would cause the lander to only be operable for several more weeks. Therefore, the team has decided to turn off InSight's seismometer for the next two weeks in order to conserve energy.

insight mars dust storm

"We were at about the bottom rung of our ladder when it comes to power. Now we're on the ground floor," remarked Chuck Scott, InSight's Project Manager. "If we can ride this out, we can keep operating into winter—but I'd worry about the next storm that comes along."

The dust storms that occur on Mars are not like those you might see in a Hollywood movie, according to NASA. Even with winds up to 60 mph (97 kilometers per hour), storms on the Red Planet are less severe due to the air on Mars being a fraction the density of what is here on Earth.

InSight's team had recently estimated the mission would be able to last between late October of this year, and sometime in January of 2023. The lander has already fulfilled its initial mission, and is currently conducting "bonus science" by measuring marsquakes.