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Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

InSight celebrates 1,000th day on Mars and detects another large Marsquake

NASA’s Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) Mars lander on September 18, 2021 celebrated its 1,000th day on the red planet.

The spaceprobe blasted off from Earth from the Vandenberg SFB in California on May 5, 2018 atop an United Launch Alliance Atlas V 401 rocket, beginning its multi-month journey to Mars and becoming the first interplanetary mission to be launched from the U.S. West Coast. After a 205-day voyage through deep space, InSight arrived at the red planet on November 26, 2018 and began entering the Martian atmosphere. At 19:52:59 UTC, the 360 kilograms heavy spacecraft safely and softly touched down on the smooth plains of Elysium Planitia, to begin its historic mission.

The lander studies Mars’ formation, interior composition and tectonic activity, by measuring the planet’s heat flow, seismic vibrations and the wobbles Mars experiences on its orbit around the Sun.

InSight's first selfie taken on Mars. The image is made up of 11 single frames taken by the Instrument Deployment Camera on the lander's robotic arm. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.
InSight’s first selfie taken on Mars. The image is made up of 11 single frames taken by the Instrument Deployment Camera on the lander’s robotic arm. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

During the 1,000-day anniversary, the instrument used to measure the planet’s seismic waves, known as the “Seismic Experiment for Interior Structur”, or SEIS for short, detected a Marsquake with an estimated magnitude of about 4.2. The strong quake shook the lander for about 1 ½ hours and was the third temblor stronger than magnitude 4 to be detected by SEIS within one month.

The exact origin and strength of the September 18 quake, which was one of the biggest and longest-lasting ones ever detected by the probe, is still under investigation by scientists on Earth.

The SEIS instrument and its Wind and Thermal Shield captured by InSight's Instrument Deployment Camera. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.
The SEIS instrument and its Wind and Thermal Shield captured by InSight’s Instrument Deployment Camera. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

The most recent Marsquake might not have been detected by InSight at all if not for the planet’s wind, which constantly deposits dust on the lander’s solar arrays, forcing the ground controllers to take drastic measures. Due to the dust buildup on the solar arrays and the falling temperatures on Mars caused by its elliptical orbit taking the planet further away from the Sun, the spacecraft controllers were forced to shut down several instruments to use the energy for InSight’s heaters. To keep SEIS active, the controllers scooped sand from the surface with the lander’s robotic arm and trickled it near one of the two solar panels. The wind then blew the sand grains over the panel, sweeping of the deposited dust with them. The rather paradox sounding technique worked and power levels remained steady until Mars began approaching its parent star again, resulting in an increase in sunlight for the solar arrays.

InSight will continue studying Mars’ interior for at least another year, after NASA in January announced to extend the lander’s mission through December 2022. If the probe will survive another year in the harsh Martian climate or if the mission will be extended a second time, remains to be seen.


Sources:

https://mars.nasa.gov/news/9046/nasas-insight-finds-three-big-marsquakes-thanks-to-solar-panel-dusting/?site=insight

https://mars.nasa.gov/insight/timeline/overview/

https://mars.nasa.gov/insight/mission/overview/

https://mars.nasa.gov/insight/spacecraft/instruments/summary/

https://mars.nasa.gov/news/8829/nasa-extends-exploration-for-two-planetary-science-missions/?site=insight

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