NASA’s InSight Lander Gets Busy On Mars, Starts Hunting For Marsquakes

NASA/JPL-Caltech

The InSight Mars lander is officially preparing to get its science on. Now that the probe has deployed its main instruments, it will begin collecting data on the red planet as early as next month, reports Gizmodo.

InSight is equipped with an ultrasensitive seismometer called the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure — SEIS, for short. The instrument was built by the French space agency CNES and was designed to help the lander listen for marsquakes and measure the seismic waves that ripple through Mars’ deep interior.

SEIS was successfully placed on the dusty terrain of Elysium Planitia shortly before Christmas — as reported by the Inquisitr at the time — and is due to begin its science operations very soon. The seismometer has already passed a series of initial tests and is now on the lookout for the notorious marsquakes, notes Space.

The announcement comes from CNES officials, who revealed that the first test of the InSight seismometer occurred on January 1. The lander passed the test with flying colors and is now ready to get to work.

“This is a historic moment and a great hope for geophysics.”

The news is thrilling, especially considering that it’s been quite a while since we’ve had an update on the InSight Mars mission. The last time we heard from the intrepid spacecraft was on December 19, 2018, when the lander picked the SEIS instrument with its robotic arm and lifted it from the spacecraft’s deck, carefully placing it on the red martian ground.

According to the French space agency, no other spacecraft that ever visited Mars has ferried a similar instrument to the red planet.

“The two U.S. Viking 1 and Viking 2 missions launched by NASA in 1975 were each carrying a seismometer. One failed to function, while the other — fixed to the deck of the lander — was unable to measure Mars’ seismic activity as it was too sensitive to the background noise generated by winds,” CNES officials said in a statement.

“SEIS is, thus, the first instrument of its kind to be placed on the surface of the red planet.”

In a short animation shared on Twitter at the beginning of the week, the InSight team offered a fresh glimpse of the seismometer, showing that the instrument was completely leveled on the dusty martian soil.

The GIF unveiled that mission engineers had also balanced three of the instrument’s six internal seismic sensors, confirming that they are in top shape.

A follow-up post on the next day provided extra details on the mission’s progress, showing that the cable tethering the seismometer to the InSight lander had been unfurled to prevent it from fluttering in the martian wind.

“Keeping it still will help as I listen for marsquakes,” tweeted InSight.