NASA rovers on Mars work thanks to solar energy produced by the solar panels that cover them. This is ideal because present and “infinite” energy is harnessed in situ. The problem comes when the solar panels do not capture enough light, which is what is happening to InSight now due to the dust of the arid Red Planet.
As announced by NASA, the InSight rover will go into hibernation during the Martian winter. This seeks to save and conserve the rover’s energy to cope with winter. The rover’s solar panels are currently covered in dust and there is not enough wind to “clean” them. On the other hand, Mars is at one of its furthest points from the Sun in its annual orbit, so the light received is also less.
A cold and dusty winter ahead
The rover currently barely has access to sunlight. As dust has coated the panels and Mars has moved away from the Sun, the amount of energy produced is minimal. According to NASA, the rover currently only produces 27% of what it could produce if conditions were optimal.
NASA’s InSight rover has been given a mission extension for another two years, which means it will continue to collect data and explore Mars throughout 2022. But, for now, it is on hiatus. The rover requires a minimum amount of energy to keep the heaters running, which are what allow it to cope with the extreme temperatures of the planet. NASA prefers to prioritize this rather than risk losing the entire rover.
Once Mars begins to get closer to the Sun again, the amount of sunlight the rover will receive will increase. As a result, it is hoped that it will be able to capture more energy again and turn all its instruments back on to explore and analyze the Martian surface.
Meanwhile, NASA’s latest rover on Mars, Perseverance, continues to explore the planet. In addition to the scientific instrumentation it has, it is accompanied by the Ingenuity helicopter that takes spectacular aerial views of the planet. China for its part is also sniffing the surface of Mars.