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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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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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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Volcanoes on Mars Might Still be Active

Back in March, NASA’s InSight lander detected two large quakes from a geologically active region of Mars called the Cerberus Fossae. Now, using imagery from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which circles the red planet at an altitude of about 300km, researchers have discovered that the Cerberus Fossae region holds the most recent evidence of volcanic activity ever seen on Mars.

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One Full Year of Seismic Data Collected by Mars Insight Includes 500 Quakes

The English vocabulary has some words that only make sense from an Earth-bound perspective.  Earthquake is one of those.  Even in some science fiction and fantasy books, where the action takes place somewhere other than Earth, that team is used to denote the ground shaking.  It’s therefore nice to see planetary scientists trying to expand the root word to other planets.  Marsquakes are the most commonly studied, and now thanks to InSight scientists have collected a full year of data on Marsquakes for the first time.

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InSight Detects Two Significant Quakes from the Cerberus Fossae Region on Mars

NASA’s InSight lander felt the distant rumble of two major ‘marsquakes’ in March, originating from a region near the Martian equator known as the Cerberus Fossae. Registering magnitudes of 3.1 and 3.3 on March 7th and March 18th respectively, the quakes cement the Cerberus Fossae’s reputation as one of the most geologically active places on the Red Planet today. A pair of similarly strong marsquakes rocked the same region back in 2019.

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Magnetic Fields Around Mars InSight are 10x Stronger than Scientists Expected

Artist's concept of NASA's InSight lander on Mars, layers of the planet's subsurface can be seen below and dust devils can be seen in the background. Credits: IPGP/Nicolas Sarter

When NASA’s Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (Insight) lander set down on Mars in November of 2018, it began its two-year primary mission of studying Mars’ seismology and interior environment. And now, just over a year and a half later, the results of the lander’s first twelve months on the Martian surface have been released in a series of studies.

One of these studies, which was recently published in the journal Nature Geosciences, shared some rather interesting finds about magnetic fields on Mars. According to the research team behind it, the magnetic field within the crater where InSight’s landed is ten times stronger than expected. These findings could help scientists resolve key mysteries about Mars’ formation and subsequent evolution.

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After a Challenging First Year on Mars, InSight Shows Us that Mars is Seismically Active

In this artist's concept of NASA's InSight lander on Mars, layers of the planet's subsurface can be seen below and dust devils can be seen in the background. Image Credit: IPGP/Nicolas Sarter

The NASA and DLR InSight lander has been on Mars for over a year now. The mission has faced significant challenges getting its HP3 (Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package) into the subsurface, but the spacecraft’s other instruments are working as intended. Now, researchers have published six papers outlining some of the mission’s scientific results.

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