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NASA's InSight probe emerges from Mars dust storm

Plucky probe exceeded expectations. What's your excuse for that keyboard?

Recent photos from NASA's Mars InSight lander demonstrate that even the Register readers' filthiest PCs cannot compare to the effects of Martian dust.

Although consequences of poor PC hygiene can result in blocked fans, overheating silicon, and even the odd dried animal corpse, a build-up of dust on spacecraft solar panels can cause a permanent cessation of activity on the surface of the Red Planet.

Case in point – Mars InSight.

The lander went quiet in January as it dropped into safe mode during a dust storm which reduced the sunlight reaching its solar panels. It has since clawed its way back to a semblance of normal operations as the storm settled but... well... just look at it.

Mars InSight Dust

Snapped by InSight's Instrument Deployment Camera (IDC) Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The above image was transmitted to Earth last weekend and, unless a passing dust devil clears away some of the grot, it appears the lander's days are numbered.

NASA's engineers remain optimistic and a spokesperson from JPL told The Register the team was assessing the effects of the latest dust dump and reckoned that the impact appeared small. However, "it can take many weeks for all of the dust to settle out of the atmosphere, and we won't know the full extent of the reduction in power for some time."

InSight is on borrowed time. All its primary science objectives (excepting the unfortunate mole) are complete, and the probe is on an extended mission, funded through December 2022.

Will it make it that far?

The spokesperson told us: "Within the next year, the team expects the power level to get low enough that science operations will come to a close."

During a recent presentation in a Mars Exploration Program Analysis Meeting, InSight principal investigator William Banerdt warned energy levels could drop below that required to operate the lander's instruments in the May-June timeframe.

Another attempt to remove some of the dust by sprinkling sand on one of the arrays is planned for the coming days but barring a statistically unlikely natural cleaning event (like those experienced by the Spirit and Opportunity rovers) the dust accumulation will continue and operations will come to an end.

So if your PC is a dusty horror, you don't have the excuse of it being millions of miles away for not giving it a jolly good cleaning. ®

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