The end is near for a Martian lander, courtesy of the weather

The NASA Insight lander on Mars. The solar panels that power the lander are covered with dust, which is reducing power capability. (NASA/JPL-Caltech via AP) (Uncredited)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- – NASA’s Insight Mars lander is nearing the end of its life, and its death will partially be attributed to the weather.

The lander has been in operation on the red planet since 2018. The mission was to study geology on the planet.

Insight’s purpose

The Insight mission was approved back in 2012 by NASA. The Insight lander has measured “marsquakes” (earthquakes on Mars) using a seismometer.

The Instrument Deployment Camera (IDC), located on the robotic arm of NASA's InSight lander, took this picture of the Martian surface on Nov. 26, 2018, the same day the spacecraft touched down on the Red Planet. (Image credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

The lander has also been used to provide 3D models of the planet’s interior and measure internal heat transfer on Mars.

The Insight lander has been providing volumes of data, including over 1,300 marsquakes, in its lifetime.

Now weather is causing issues, and the end is near for Insight.

Mars has weather?

Despite being a desolate planet with a very limited atmosphere, Mars does have weather. It’s just nothing like Earth’s weather.

Mars’s main weather features are dust storms and strong winds.

Two images from the Mars Orbiter Camera on NASA's Mars Global Surveyor orbiter show a dramatic change in the planet's appearance when haze raised by dust-storm activity in the south became globally distributed.Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

These dust storms throw dust from the surface thousands of miles in the atmosphere and sometimes consume the entire planet.

Dust is a major problem for NASA missions. Almost all of the rovers and landers use solar panels as their primary source of energy.

Years of dust are now covering the solar panels, hindering Insight’s ability to generate power.

What happens now?

Earlier this year, the dust on the solar panels had reduced power so great that most of the instruments were turned off.

The seismometer remains operational as it continues to detect marsquakes. Even it is turned off during dust storms to preserve power.

According to NASA, Insight is now down to less than 20% of its original generating capacity. It is likely Insight will no longer be able to create power in the coming weeks as the dust continues to increase.

NASA will declare the Insight mission over when the lander misses two consecutive communications sessions with a spacecraft orbiting Mars. This spacecraft is the relay for Insight to send data back to Earth.

It is likely Insight will not be operational by the end of this year.

So while Insight has produced significant data on Mars, it will eventually be a victim of the harsh Martian weather.