Mars InSight Doesn’t Find any Water ice Within 300 Meters Under its Feet

Space science doesn’t always go as planned. Sometimes when scientists think they’ve made a remarkable discovery that will make human expansion into the cosmos easier, they are just flat-out wrong. But the beauty of science is that it corrects itself in the presence of new data. The people responsible for planning future Mars missions will have to make just such a correction as new data has come in on the availability of water on the red planet. There’s not as much of it as initially thought. At least not around the equator where InSight landed.

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Despite its draining power, NASA’s InSight Mars lander is determined to squeeze as much science as it can until the very last moment

Its solar panels are caked with dust and the batteries are running out of juice, but NASA’s InSight Mars lander continues to soldier forth collecting more science about the Red Planet until its very last beep. To conserve energy, InSight was projected to shut down its seismometer—its last operational science instrument—by the end of June, hoping to survive on its remaining power until December. The seismometer has been the key instrument designed to measure marsquakes, which it has been recording since it touched down on Mars in 2018, and recently recorded a 5.0-magnitude quake, the biggest yet.

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This is the Last Selfie InSight Will Ever Take

Few things in life captivate us more than looking at images from other planets, no matter how dull these images might seem. This is especially true for Mars, as it’s where we’ve sent the most robots to explore its cold and dry surface. The very first image from the surface of Mars in July 1976 was nothing more than the Viking 1 lander’s footpad and some rocks, but no one cared about these mundane details because we were looking at an image from Mars. We were looking at the surface of another world for the first time in human history, and not only were we captivated by it, but we wanted more.

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InSight is Losing Power, it Probably Will be Shut Down in a Few Months

InSight captured this image of one of its dust-covered solar panels on April 24, 2022, the 1,211th Martian day, or sol, of the mission. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The InSight Mars lander will cease science operations sometime in the next few months due to a decreasing power supply, mission managers said at a news conference on May 17. Martian dust covering the solar panels has reduced the amount of power to roughly 500 watt-hours per Mars day or sol. When InSight landed in November of 2018, the solar panels produced around 5,000 watt-hours each sol.

“At the end of the calendar year, we do anticipate having to conclude all InSight operations,” said Kathya Zamora Garcia, InSight’s deputy project manager said at the briefing, “not because we want to turn it off but unfortunately we don’t have the energy to run it.”

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Marsquakes are Caused by Shifting Magma

Mars' interior as revealed by the NASA/DLR InSight lander. Image Credit: Cottar, Koelemeijer, Winterbourne, NASA

Before the InSight Lander arrived on Mars, scientists could only estimate what the planet’s internal structure might be. Its size, mass, and moment of inertia were their main clues. Meteorites, orbiters, and in-situ sampling by rovers provided other clues.

But when InSight (Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) arrived on Mars in November 2018 and deployed its seismometer, better data started streaming in.

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We Might Know Why Mars Lost its Magnetic Field

This figure shows a cross-section of the planet Mars revealing an inner, high density core buried deep within the interior. Dipole magnetic field lines are drawn in blue, showing the global scale magnetic field that one associates with dynamo generation in the core. Mars must have one day had such a field, but today it is not evident. Perhaps the energy source that powered the early dynamo has shut down. The differentiation of the planet interior - heavy elements like iron sinking towards the center of the planet - can provide energy as can the formation of a solid core from the liquid. Credit: NASA/JPL/GSFC

Mars is a parched planet ruled by global dust storms. It’s also a frigid world, where night-time winter temperatures fall to -140 C (-220 F) at the poles. But it wasn’t always a dry, barren, freezing, inhospitable wasteland. It used to be a warm, wet, almost inviting place, where liquid water flowed across the surface, filling up lakes, carving channels, and leaving sediment deltas.

But then it lost its magnetic field, and without the protection it provided, the Sun stripped away the planet’s atmosphere. Without its atmosphere, the water went next. Now Mars is the Mars we’ve always known: A place that only robotic rovers find hospitable.

How exactly did it lose its magnetic shield? Scientists have puzzled over that for a long time.

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InSight Peers Deep Below the Surface on Mars

Artist's concept of InSight "taking the pulse of Mars". Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The InSight lander has been on Mars, gathering data for a thousand days now, working to give us a better understanding of the planet’s interior. It’s at Elysium Planitia, the second largest volcanic region on Mars. A newly-published paper based on seismic data from the lander shows something unexpected underground: a layer of sediment sandwiched between layers of lava flows.

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NASA’s InSight Experiences its Most Powerful Marsquake so far: Magnitude 4.2, Lasting 90 Minutes

This selfie of NASA’s InSight lander is a mosaic made up of 14 images taken on March 15 and April 11 – the 106th and 133rd Martian days, or sols, of the mission – by the spacecraft Instrument Deployment Camera located on its robotic arm. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s InSight lander has detected one of the most powerful and longest-lasting quakes on the Red Planet since the start of its mission. The big marsquake happened on Sept. 18 on Earth, which happened to coincide with InSight’s 1,000th Martian day, or sol since it landed on Mars.

The temblor is estimated to be about a magnitude 4.2 and shook for an unthinkable hour-and-a-half! For comparison, on Earth, most quakes last for just a few seconds, although two (one in 1960 and another in 2004) lasted for about 10 minutes. Scientists are still studying the data collected on this marsquake to determine why (and how) it endured for such a long time.

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InSight has Mapped out the Interior of Mars, Revealing the Sizes of its Crust, Mantle, and Core

NASA's SEIS instrument on the Martian surface. SEIS is protected by a dome. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

In May of 2018, NASA’s Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy, and Heat Transport (InSight) landed on the Martian surface. This mission is the first of its kind, as all previous orbiters, landers, and rovers focused on studying the surface and atmosphere of Mars. In contrast, InSight was tasked with characterizing Mars’ interior structure and measuring the core, mantle, and crust by reading its seismic activity (aka. “marsquakes”).

The purpose of this is to learn more about the geological evolution of Mars since it formed 4.5 billion years ago, which will also provide insight into the formation of Earth. According to three recently published papers, the data obtained by InSight has led to new analyses on the depth and composition of Mars’ crust, mantle and confirmed the theory that the planet’s inner core is molten.

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Clever Trick Used to Clean off InSight’s Solar Panels and Boost its Power

The Mars InSight lander poured martian regolith on its solar panels in a unique experiment, which worked! Credit: NASA

Ever have an idea that was so crazy that it just might work? A few weeks ago, members of the InSight Mars team came up with a crazy, counter-intuitive way to try to get dust off the lander’s solar panels: pour *more* dust on the panels.

Yes, that sounds crazy. But yes, it actually worked!

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