Quirks & Quarks

InSight lander will use seismology to see what's shaking on Mars

The InSight Lander will look below the surface of Mars for seismic activity as well as signs of water
NASA's Mars InSight Lander will look for seismic activity deep below the Martian surface (NASA)

The InSight Lander

NASA launched the Mars InSight Lander from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on May 5th. Its mission is to peer inside the planet to understand what is happening below the surface. InSight is equipped with a seismometer to record 'marsquakes', a magnetometer to measure the magnetic field below the surface and detect water, as well as instruments to take the planet's inner temperature to help understand heat loss from below the surface. The InSight Lander will reach Mars in late November and begin sending data back by late December or early 2019.    


The Mars InSight Lander is the first mission to deploy a seismometer on another planet. The seismometer will tell a team of scientists including Dr. Catherine Johnson, a professor of geophysics from the University of British Columbia, where, when, and how often 'marsquakes' occur. This is important for understanding the present day interior state of Mars. Plate techtonics is the cause of major quakes here on Earth, but Mars does not have the same interior structure.  But just like Earth, Mars does experience less severe 'intercontinental quakes' that do not occur on fault lines between moving plates.      

Where did Martian water go?

The InSight Lander will also deploy a magnetometer to measure the magnetic field of rocks below the Martian surface.  The variations in the magnetic field over time will tell scientists how electrically conductive the rocks are.  Electical conductivity will provide a clue to one of the great mysteries about Mars, where did all the surface water and ice go, and how much water is currently tied up below the surface.  Mars was once covered in a significant amount of water and ice, and it has never been well understood where it came from and where it went.