NASA Mars lander powers through dust issue, can keep doing science work

InSight gets some good news after dust piled up on its solar panels.

Amanda Kooser
Freelance writer Amanda C. Kooser covers gadgets and tech news with a twist for CNET. When not wallowing in weird gear and iPad apps for cats, she can be found tinkering with her 1956 DeSoto.
Amanda Kooser
2 min read

Dust coated InSight's solar panels, requiring a creative solution.


Earlier this year, prospects for NASA's Mars InSight lander weren't looking good. The stationary explorer's solar panels were caked in dust and it was looking at taking a vacation from science to conserve energy. Now, a clever solution to the dust problem means InSight will continue studying the red planet.

The InSight team made a welcome announcement on behalf of the lander on Friday, tweeting, "Because of the hard work of my team, solar power has improved." That hard work included coming up with a clever way of scrubbing some of the dust off the solar panels by instructing the lander to dump dirt on itself.

"At the start of the year we thought we'd stop collecting science for six months; now I'll be operating for most of the summer," the InSight team tweeted. "This is all 'bonus' science since I've completed my main mission goals."

NASA knew dust was going to be a challenge on Mars. The agency hoped that passing whirlwinds would help keep the panels clean, but that hasn't happened as expected. Earlier this year, InSight received a mission extension through December 2022. The dust issue had put its continuing science work in jeopardy. 

The recovery is good news for InSight's work on Mars, which includes studying Marsquakes. While NASA's Perseverance and Curiosity rovers are rolling around on other regions of Mars, InSight will focus on gathering seismic and weather data. 

Dust may continue to be an issue for InSight. If it gets lucky, a passing whirlwind will further clean the panels. If not, it may be battling the dust scourge throughout its mission extension.

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