Quirks and Quarks

Mars-quakes may shake the red planet, and NASA's new lander will detect them

The InSight lander carries a seismograph and other instruments that will look inside Mars

The InSight lander carries a seismograph and other instruments that will look inside Mars

An illustration showing a simulated view of NASA's InSight lander about to land on the surface of Mars. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

The Mars InSight lander is scheduled to enter the Martian atmosphere on Monday, November 26, and land near the Martian Equator to take measurements of the planet's internal temperature and vibrations.

The data will paint a picture of Mars' interior structure and help scientists to better understand its composition, formation and history.

NASA's InSight mission 

"If you're trying to understand how rocky planets form, whether here in our solar system or exoplanets in other solar systems, our problem is that the only planet we have lots of data for is Earth," said Dr. Mark Panning, who's a co-investigator on the mission and a geophysicist and seismologist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab. "So this is our chance to really understand the whole pattern of how different rocky planets formed and evolved."

Listening for Mars-quakes

InSight is equipped with three instruments. The most important one is the seismometer, which will listen for vibrations and Mars-quakes. This will help scientists answer questions about the size of Mars' core and the depth of the planet's mantle. 

The second, complementary, instrument is a heat probe that will hammer itself into the Martian dirt and measure the heat radiating from the planet to gain insights into how the planet is continuing to cool since it's formation, which in turn will tell researchers about its composition.

The mission will look for tectonic activity and meteorite impacts, study how much heat is still flowing through the planet, and track Mars' wobble as it orbits the sun. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

A radio antenna will also be activated to collect precise positional measurements to give a better idea of the planet's precession and spin axis — also important for understanding how the planet was formed.

Insight will parachute into the planet and land using rockets.The first two instruments will then be lifted off the lander by a robot arm for deployment.