Orbiter spots InSight on Mars as heat probe resumes hammering

The InSight lander was spotted by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter on 23 September from an altitude of 272 kilometres (169 miles). It is one of the sharpest views of InSight yet captured. Image: Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

After months of troubleshooting, engineers apparently have managed to coax a German temperature probe to resume its hammering into the martian surface, using the InSight lander’s robot arm to press down on nearby soil, increasing friction and helping the device continue is mole-like digging.

NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, meanwhile, used its powerful HiRISE camera to capture the best views yet of the InSight lander, showing the spacecraft’s two solar arrays and a deployed seismometer instrument, as well as the nuclear-powered Curiosity rover some 600 kilometres (373 miles).

InSight landed in the Elysium Planitia region of Mars last November and deployed two scientific instruments on the surface: an ultra-sensitive seismometer provided by CNES, the French space agency, and a self-hammering temperature probe provided by the German space agency DLR. In the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter photo, InSight can be clearly seen, along with its two circular solar panels. The dome of the seismometer can be seen by reflected sunlight. The temperature probe, known as “the mole,” is less than a metre away.

The seismometer is working normally, but the temperature probe, designed to hammer its way 5 meters (16 feet) below the surface, stopped descending after a few centimetres, prompting concern it had run into a sub-surface rock or dense, compacted soil.

After months of testing, engineers came up with a plan to remotely use InSight’s robot arm to press against the drill in a bid to straighten it up, increase friction with the surrounding soil and resume hammering.

DLR reported progress in a tweet earlier this week:

The good news was reported by NASA in another tweet from the agency’s InSight account:

Curiosity, meanwhile, was spotted by HiRISE on the lower slopes of Mount Sharp at the center of Gale Crater. The orbiter caught a glimpse of the rover in two places as it drove 337 metres (1,106 feet) across a region known as the clay-bearing unit.

The Curiosity rover. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona