NASA InSight operators have noted a small boost in power produced by the lander’s solar panels following a dust storm. The boost indicates that the storm cleared some of the dust that has built up over the panels since InSight touched down in November last year.
On February 1, InSight detected a passing wind vortex, commonly known as a dust devil. Once the vortex cleared, the lander’s two solar panels experienced a bump in power. 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.
Although NASA researchers had in the past observed this type of power boost from the Spirit and Opportunity rovers following dust storms, neither was equipped with meteorological sensors. InSight, on the hand, is equipped with a host of payloads designed specifically for collecting a variety of meteorological data.
“It didn’t make a significant difference to our power output, but this first event is fascinating science,” said Ralph Lorenz, an InSight science team member at Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory. “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.”
Dust has slowly covered InSight’s two dinner-table-sized solar panels since it touched down on the surface of Mars in November last year. The combination of the accumulation of dust and the planet moving farther away from the sun has seen the panels output fall by as much as 30%. This drop in output is, however, calculated for and the 2,700 watt-hours per sol currently produced by the panels are more than enough for daily operations, which account for roughly 1,500 watt-hours per sol.