Science

InSight Mars Places A Seismometer On The Martian Surface

Seismometer On The Martian Surface
Image source: YouTube Video Screenshot

The Mars InSight lander continues to explore the Red Planet after successfully placing a seismometer on the Martian surface, NASA announced in a mission update. When it reaches its proper position, the seismometer will study the Martian ground and collect data about seismic activity deep beneath the planet’s surface.

The InSight lander‘s seismometer is officially called the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS), and its mission will start as soon as it’s positioned properly onto the Martian surface. The instrument must be placed on level ground, which means it needs to avoid large rocks and other uneven parts of the surface which could pose a problem. To place it properly, the InSight team created and tested a model in NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory to make sure the commands they send to the lander will position the instrument correctly on the ground.

The JPL team used InSight’s Instrument Deployment Camera, the same camera used to take the spacecraft’s selfie after it landed on Mars. The team used the camera to check the surface for any obstacles which could interrupt the process of placing the instrument. After all the tests were passed, the instrument was deployed from the lander’s body and placed on the Martian surface.

The biggest challenge in placing the seismometer on the Martian surface was the sandbox-like environment in the place where InSight touched down. Because of the sandy surface, the seismometer now sits at a slight angle of about two to three degrees. However, the team expects to be able to shift it to a more level position soon.

“Seismometer deployment is as important as landing InSight on Mars,”  InSight Principal Investigator Bruce Banerdt said in a statement. “The seismometer is the highest-priority instrument on InSight: We need it in order to complete about three-quarters of our science objectives.”

The main purpose of the Mars InSight mission is to study marsquakes by recording seismic activity on the Red Planet. NASA scientists will use InSight’s seismometer to collect data for three-quarters of the mission. When a marsquake occurs, scientists will be able to study the interior of the planet by observing the direction of the seismic waves caused by the shake. This will enable researchers to learn more about the different layers of the planet and deduce each one’s depth and material composition.

“Having the seismometer on the ground is like holding a phone up to your ear,” SEIS Principal Investigator Philippe Lognonné said in a statement. “We’re thrilled that we’re now in the best position to listen to all the seismic waves from below Mars’ surface and from its deep interior.”

Just earlier this month, the instrument was used to “listen” to the vibrations caused by the winds on Mars.