Mars InSight Lander Is Covered In Orange Dust But Scientists Say It's A Good Thing

NASA's Mars InSight lander showing its solar panels covered in orange dust. The robotic explorer recently had a brief encounter with one of the planet's infamous dust devils. The encounter lifted some of the dust that accumulated on its solar panels and allowed it to study Martian winds.   ( NASA/JPL-Caltech )

NASA's InSight has been hit by a passing dust devil but, do not fret. Scientists claim that the Mars lander is going to be fine.

In fact, the robotic explorer has used the experience as an opportunity to gain new data on the winds that blow on the surface of the Red Planet.

NASA's InSight Encounters Mars Dust Devil

In February, InSight detected a wind vortex, also known as a dust devil. It was not able to capture the event. The lander received a power boost, which means that the wind lifted a tiny amount of dust that has accumulated on its solar panels.

Rovers Spirit and Opporunity both had encounters with dust devils on Mars, which left their solar panels visibly cleaner and bumped their power to up to 10 percent. InSight's brush with a dust devil, meanwhile, caused a 0.7 percent power boost in one solar panel and 2.7 percent on the other.

"It didn't make a significant difference to our power output, but this first event is fascinating science," explained Ralph Lorenz on Johns Hopkins University in a news release by NASA. "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."

InSight's weather sensors, collectively known as the Auxiliary Payload Sensor Suite or APSS, detected a steady increase in wind speed and sharp drop in air pressure. NASA reported that the direction of the dust devil by about 180 degrees, which proved that it passed directly over the lander. The scientists also measured wind speed of up to 45 miles per hour.

Moreover, the robotic explorer recorded the biggest air pressure drop on Mars detected by any rover. During the brief encounter, InSight experienced air pressure at 9 pascals or only 13 percent of the ambient pressure on the surface of the Red Planet.

Since its arrival, the lander has been accumulating dust on both of its table-size solar panels. Its power output has fallen about 30 percent due to dust and the planet's distance from the sun.

InSight's solar panels currently produce 2,700 watt hours per sol. It only need about 1,500 watt-hours per sol to do its work.

Weather Reporting All The Way From Mars

Earlier this year, NASA launched a Mars Weather page on InSight's web hub in which the lander published its daily weather measurement on the surface of the Red Planet. The APSS, which is more sensitive than the sensors used in previous missions, provides round-the-clock data on the weather on Mars.

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