NASA's InSight lander has captured a series of images of sunrise and sunset on Mars lately, based on a release of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California on Wednesday.
The Mars Insight lander sent back the above photo from its perch in the flatlands of Elysium Planitia showing some drifting clouds at sunset on April 25.
Insight, for the first time, a "marsquake" after detecting faint rumbles beneath the surface since December, when it placed its seismometer down to begin its mission.
The second selfie, which NASA released yesterday (May 6), shows a thin layer of dust covering the lander. The lander has placed both pieces of equipment on the ground using its robotic arm - the seismometer on December 19 of past year and the mole on February 12.
Taking pictures of Martian sunsets is somewhat a rite of passage for landers on Mars. If anything, the sudden blast of wind helped to clear off some annoying dust that had been collecting on the probe's solar panels. Atop the deck are InSight's science instruments, weather sensor booms and UHF antenna. "Also visible is its robotic arm and grapple". But it also detected the biggest air pressure drop ever recorded by a Mars surface mission: 9 pascals, or 13% of ambient pressure.
The lander recorded wind speeds of 45 miles per hour (72 km/h) at the time; however, the pressure drop suggests that the winds may have been even stronger, but too turbulent to measure, they added. By measuring the dust build up, NASA scientists will be able to measure wind velocity and even the frequency of dust storms which happen in Mars.
"Without a passing vortex, the winds are more typically between about 4 to 20 miles per hour (2-10 meters per second) [6 to 32 km/h], depending on time of day", Spiga added. The power increase was small, just 0.7% on one panel and 2.7% on the other, suggesting a small amount of dust was lifted. In fact, they're hopeful that a light caking of dust will actually reveal new clues about Martian weather.
Dust is a serious issue for human-made machines on Mars, as in most cases can interfere with the normal operation of landers and rovers.
"We still don't know what drives the variability, but the 2018 storm gives another data point", says Scott Guzewich, an atmospheric scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, who's a lead in NASA's dust storm investigation. Villanueva said the scientists will have to consider this new information.