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NASA is calling for a break as the InSight heat probe hits another hook on Mars

Short GIF that shows the movement of the pebbles on the shovel and shows the movement of the mole below.
Gif:: NASA / JPL-Caltech

After some slight progress, the Mars InSight heat probe, known as “the mole”, will no longer descend into the Red Planets. NASA is currently pausing in this part of the mission to release InSight’s robotic arm for other important tasks.

The saga of the self-hammering heat probe started At the end of February 2019, around 13 weeks after InSight Lander arrived on the Mars. Mission planners were unable to dig through Mars’ hard regolite and developed a plan in which a shovel at the top of InSight’s robotic arm pinned the mole to the bottom of the pit so that it could resume its digging duties. This worked for a while, but as NASA Reportsthe mole has stopped digging.

The package for heat flow and physical properties built by the German Aerospace Center (DLR) is designed to measure an exact temperature of Mars at depths of up to 3 meters, but the mole has not come close to that. The 40 cm heat probe barely cleaned the surface. despite months of work and hundreds of single hammer blows.

To dig to Marsthe mole must be wrapped in loose regolith, but the surface material in this area appears to be Duricrust, a cement-like mixture in which granules stick together.

Images taken during a hammer session on June 20 showed parts of the Martian soil bouncing off the shovel – a possible sign that the mole is no longer digging and now bumps into the bottom of the pit and hits InSight’s shovel. In a recently published blog post, DLR instrument was led by Tilman Spohn described the situation:

[When] We looked at the pictures that were sent to Earth after hammering … we had to conclude that the mole was two to three centimeters [0.75 to 1 inches] Deeper in and below the surface did not provide the necessary friction, even if the Regolith was pressed. The tether moved back and forth and then to the left, reversing much of its progress [before]. In the middle of the film you can see that the dust particles are moving again. Two particles even seem to jump up a few centimeters. On closer inspection, however, you can see that they move forward on several slides from inside the shovel. The moving dust particles indicate that the mole had withdrawn and tapped on the flat side of the shovel from below.

This Free Mole Test result was of course not exactly what we hoped for, but we cannot say that it was a complete surprise. After all, we continue to fight against the lack of friction on the mole hull. The test supports our previous conclusion that the coherent duricrust is unusually thick – based at least on what we previously knew about Mars – and that it must be fairly rigid.

It doesn’t help that mission planners can’t even see the mole or the inside of the pit like they can are covered by the shovel.

NASA is now pausing this part of the missiondo the shovel is available for other tasks. Meanwhile, Spohn and his colleagues will think about the next possible steps, “although we appreciate that the task will probably not be easier,” he wrote.

When InSight’s arm is withdrawn, the team takes stereoscopic images of the pit with the mole inside, measures the depth of the probe, sees how the pit has changed shape due to the latest hammering, and determines whether the moles are present activity has changed the distribution and composition of the sand in the pit.

A possible next step could be to use the InSight shovel to push loose material into the hole, which can provide the necessary friction. The shovel would then Protect yourself again from the mole sticking out of the hole. Spohn said that filling the pit is not an easy task and it will likely take some time. He estimates that 300 cubic centimeters of sand are needed. We’ll learn more in August when the team comes back.

InSight is now released from its mole duties and is ordered to take a selfie with a camera attached to the arm. In particular, NASA wants a picture of the machine’s solar panels to see how much dust has accumulated on them. This gives NASA an idea of ​​how much daily output is still available for the stationary probe.

InSight will also use the arm to perform astronomy. By tilting the camera upThe probe captures images of meteors that roam the Martian night sky, and allows scientists to determine the speed at which meteorites hit the surface in this region of Mars. These observations are then compared to data collected using the InSight seismometer, which is primarily designed to detect Mars quakes.

I have to say the situation with the mole is not looking good. Obviously, the team has to try until no other ways are available. At some point, however, they may have to give up and spend more time on other aspects of the mission that to be fair was a rousing success overall. For example, the first year of data showed that Mars, like Earth, is permanent shudder with tremors. Another nice finding: odd impulses in the Martian magnetic field.

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