Nasa’s InSight lander has recorded over 500 quakes to date on Mars since its touch down on the Red Planet in November 2018.
- The two recent quakes of magnitude 3.3 and 3.1 originated in a region called Cerberus Fossae.
- These findings support the idea that the planet is seismically active.
- The Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) mission is a robotic lander designed to study the deep interior of the planet Mars.
- It was manufactured by Lockheed Martin Space Systems, is managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and most of its scientific instruments were built by European agencies.
- The mission launched on 5 May 2018 aboard an Atlas V-401 rocket
- Successfully landed at Elysium Planitia on Mars on 26 November 2018
- InSight traveled 483 million km (300 million mi) during its journey
- InSight‘s objectives are to place a seismometer, called SEIS, on the surface of Mars to measure seismic activity and provide accurate 3D models of the planet’s interior; and measure internal heat flow using a heat probe called HP3 to study Mars’ early geological evolution.
- This could bring a new understanding of how the Solar System’s terrestrial planets – Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars – and Earth’s Moon form and evolve.
Key findings of the Mission
- Mars trembles more often than expected, but also more mildly.
- This emerged from readings of the ultra-sensitive seismometer, called the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS).
- The instrument enables scientists to “hear” multiple trembling events from hundreds to thousands of miles away.
- Mars doesn’t have tectonic plates like Earth, but it does have volcanically active regions that can cause rumbles.
The surface: Magnetism
- Billions of years ago, Mars had a magnetic field.
- Although it is no longer present, it left behind what NASA describes as “ghosts” – magnetized rocks that are now between 61 m to several km below ground.
- InSight is equipped with a magnetometer, which has detected magnetic signals.
- At a Martian site called Homestead hollow, the magnetic signals are 10 times stronger than what was predicted earlier (based on data from orbiting spacecraft).
In the wind: dust devils
- InSight measures wind speed, direction and air pressure nearly continuously.
- Weather sensors have detected thousands of passing whirlwinds, which are called dust devils when they pick up grit and become visible.
- The site has more whirlwinds than any other place where a landing has been made on Mars while carrying weather sensors.
- Despite all that activity in the wind and frequent imaging, InSight’s cameras have yet to see dust devils. But SEIS can feel these whirlwinds pulling on the surface.
The core: still to come
- InSight has two radios. One is for regularly sending and receiving data. The other radio, which is more powerful, is designed to measure the “wobble” of Mars as it spins.
- This X-band radio, also known as the Rotation and Interior Structure Experiment (RISE), can eventually reveal whether the planet’s core is solid or liquid.
- A solid core would cause Mars to wobble less than a liquid one would.
- This first year of data is just a start, NASA said in the statement. When it is two years on Earth, Mars will have completed one year.