NASA’s Insight Mission Finds that the Red Planet is Active!

InSight Lander Studying Seismic Activity (Sketch): A cutaway view of Mars showing the InSight lander studying seismic activity. Image credit: J. T. Keane/Nature Geoscience

InSight is a first-of-its-kind mission to study the interior of Mars while also monitoring surface conditions. The mission team recently reported in a set of six papers that Mars is active with quakes, dust devils, and magnetic pulses. The robotic lander has an ultra-sensitive seismometer called the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS), which has enabled scientists to detect multiple trembling events from hundreds to thousands of miles away. SEIS has detected more than 450 seismic signals to date, the vast majority of which are probably quakes (as opposed to data noise created by environmental factors, like wind). The largest quake was about magnitude 4.0, probably originating from the crust. Mars does not have tectonic plates like Earth, but it does have volcanically active regions that can cause rumbles. The magnetometer on InSight has found that the strength of the local magnetic field is ten times stronger than what was expected based on data from orbiting spacecraft. In addition, the local magnetic field strength changes over time. Meanwhile, InSight’s weather sensors have detected thousands of passing whirlwinds, which are called dust devils when they pick up grit and become visible. This first year of data is just a start. Continuing observations over a full martian year (two Earth years) will give scientists a much better picture of the interior of the red planet and the variability of conditions on its surface. READ MORE