InSight Lander Snaps Its Second Selfie On Mars, Captures New Weather Event On The Martian Surface

NASA / JPL-Caltech

The InSight lander has just beamed back another glorious selfie from Mars. Unveiled by NASA earlier this week, the new snapshot is the second full-body selfie captured by the intrepid spacecraft since it landed on the dusty Martian ground last November.

As The Inquisitr previously reported, InSight sent back its first official selfie from the red planet on December 6, 2018 – less than two weeks after its November 26 touchdown on Elysium Planitia. At the time, the spacecraft looked new and shiny and still carried its main science instruments on board its deck, Space remarks in a recent report.

Six months after its first-ever selfie from Mars, the InSight lander has pointed its robotic-arm camera at its metal body for the second time and has snapped another eye-catching self-portrait, one that reveals what it’s like to spend half a year on the red planet’s dusty surface.

In the new photo, InSight’s dinner-table-size solar panels are covered in a thin layer of dust, blown over the spacecraft by the Martian wind. At the same time, the lander’s deck looks relatively bare now that its two main instruments – the SEIS ultrasensitive seismometer and HP3 heat probe – were deployed in December and February, respectively.

“Now that they’re removed, the viewer can see the spacecraft’s air pressure sensor (white object in center), the tether box for its seismometer, and the tether for its heat probe running across the deck,” notes NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), which manages the InSight mission.

According to the JPL, InSight’s second selfie is a composite photo stitched together from 14 individual images. The photos were taken by the probe’s Instrument Deployment Camera (IDC) on March 15 and April 11 and later pieced together to form a full-body self-portrait. The final snapshot was released by NASA on May 6, just one day after InSight celebrated its one-year anniversary since first launching on its expedition to Mars.

While InSight’s latest selfie debuts a whole new look, one significantly different from its original self-portrait, it also provides tantalizing clues on the great scientific work that is to come. For one thing, the photo offers a good glimpse at InSight’s air pressure sensor, which is part of the probe’s Auxiliary Payload Sensor Suite (APSS). Tasked with gathering meteorological data at the InSight landing site, the APSS has been diligently scouting the environment and even managed to record the sound of the Martian wind in early December, as reported by The Inquisitr at the time.

Constantly on the lookout for any weather-related phenomena, the APSS has now successfully captured a new type of event on Mars in the form of a passing dust devil, NASA has just announced. Detected by InSight’s weather sensors on February 1, the passing wind vortex cleared some of the dust off of the lander’s solar panels, boosting their respective output by about 0.7 percent and 2.7 percent.

“It didn’t make a significant difference to our power output, but this first event is fascinating science,” said InSight science team member Ralph Lorenz of Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland.

“It gives us a starting point for understanding how the wind is driving changes on the surface. We still don’t really know how much wind it takes to lift dust on Mars.”

During the recent weather event, the InSight lander recorded wind speeds of up to 45 miles per hour.

“The absolute fastest wind we’ve directly measured so far from InSight was 63 miles per hour, so the vortex that lifted dust off our solar panels was among the strongest winds we’ve seen,” explained InSight participating scientist Aymeric Spiga, a researcher at the Dynamic Meteorology Laboratory at Sorbonne University in Paris.

At the same time, InSight’s air pressure sensor picked up a drop of 9 pascals, or 13 percent of ambient pressure – the biggest drop ever detected by a mission to the surface of Mars, detailed NASA officials.

“That pressure drop suggests there may have been even stronger winds that were too turbulent for sensors to record.”