InSight & The Secrets of Mars

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Artist's impression of InSight on Mars | Credit: NASA

Despite the problems of the HP3 drill, the InSight mission is starting to produce results. Its other main scientific instrument, called SEIS, tries to detect the seismic waves that cross the red planet. SEIS has already recorded some signals. As these signals are very weak, SEIS is equipped with a weather suite to exclude the vibrations coming from the Martian environment, like the wind for example. In this weather suite, there is a very accurate magnetometer.

A Big Surprise

Although the planet Mars does not have a global magnetic field, there are signs of magnetic activity at its crust. This activity was detected from orbit about twenty years ago. The SEIS magnetometer is the first scientific instrument to measure this magnetic activity directly on the surface of the planet Mars. The first surprise is that it seems to be twenty times more intense than we thought. This magnetic activity indicates that the planet Mars probably had a global magnetic field billions of years ago.

Mars photographed by the Rosetta space probe | Credit: ESA & Max Planck Institute

This magnetic field has left traces in the Martian rock, it is these traces that are currently detected by InSight. The magnetometer of the lander, however, is unable to locate the exact source of the magnetic activity of the planet Mars. This would, however, make it possible to locate more precisely at what time the global magnetic field of Mars collapsed, according to the depth of the rock which has these traces.

Midnight Rendezvous

That's not all: these residual magnetic fields tend to pulse around midnight local time. So far, we do not know explain this phenomenon. This is probably due to environmental factors, perhaps because of the way the solar winds interacts with the fine atmosphere of the red planet.

Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) on the Sun | Credit: NASA Goddard Spaceflight Center

Water on Mars? Maybe, says Insight

In addition, the data collected by InSight suggests that an electrically conductive layer could be less than 100 km deep, which could indicate the presence of an aquifer and perhaps even liquid water. This supports other clues that already suggested the presence of brine in the depths of Mars. Nevertheless, these are only preliminary results for the moment. InSight data still needs to be analyzed. Despite the problems of the HP3 drill, the Martian lander seems set to fulfill its mission, that is to say unveil what is hidden in the bowels of the planet Mars.


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