Monday, December 19, 2022

More "First Ever" Data From Mars InSight

Remember the InSight lander on Mars since November of 2018?  It isn't in the news much, but an item came out back in October telling the story of the probe detecting a quake the previous December ('21) which was traced to a meteorite impact.  It's "deja vu all over again time" with a story coming out in the last couple of days about Insight detecting the biggest marsquake ever found, five times larger than the previous largest quake.  

The quake occurred on May 4 and registered at a magnitude of 4.7 — five times more powerful than the InSight lander's previous largest quake on Mars back in August 2021, which was recorded at a magnitude around 4.2. Another indication of the scale of the event is that InSight continued detecting waves from the record-breaking quake for around 10 hours, while the after-effects of all previous marsquakes had subsided within an hour.

"The energy released by this single marsquake is equivalent to the cumulative energy from all other marsquakes we've seen so far," John Clinton, a seismologist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zürich and co-author of the study, said in a statement from the American Geophysical Union, which published the research. " Although the event was over 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) distant, the waves recorded at InSight were so large they almost saturated our seismometer."

While what I know about seismometer design might fill a thimble, from the standpoint of measuring equipment for other things, I suspect that if that quake almost saturated their instrument, it was designed in expectation of weaker quakes; it's not uncommon in measurement instruments to have difficulty measuring a wide range of natural phenomena.  Fights to get the last little bit of what you're trying to measure happen often in the electrical world.  

In a case like this, everyone who had opinions on what levels of quakes the instrument would be exposed to probably guessed toward the lower strength end of the Richter scale. That's an inherent risk with putting the first measurement instrument of any kind in a place to measure things you have no idea about. 

The seismic event in May was also unusual because its epicenter wasn't near known nodes of activity. It also displayed characteristics of both types of marsquakes so far discerned: high-frequency waves with rapid but shorter vibrations and low-frequency waves with larger amplitude. 

The marsquake occurred on Sol 1222 of InSight's mission (a sol is one day on Mars and lasts about 40 minutes longer than a day on Earth).

Much like other probes from the JPL, InSight has significantly outlived its rated lifespan.  It was planned for a two year mission and has been operating for over twice that; just over four years and one month.  While not in the class of Opportunity the rover designed for 90 days and lasting 15 years (which actually beats the Voyagers at year 45 of a four year mission) it's still significant.  Much like the Ingenuity helicopter, NASA warns that InSight has too much dust on its solar panels and may not be able to survive much longer.  Considering that Ingenuity survived the winter and is still flying, perhaps they're being too alarmist. 

A MarsInsight selfie - unknown date.  NASA/JPL-Caltech Photo


  1. Well, if the Ingenuity helicopter flew over the InSight solar panels and blew the dust off...

  2. You might have thought anyone with the ingenuity to land a probe on Mars might have pondered and provided some mechanism to remove accumulated dust from the single-point-of-failure solar panels. Like, say, tipping them over one at a time, and perhaps vibrating or shaking it off.

    But this is NASA we're talking about, so once again, you'd be wrong.

    1. Such a device would cost money to build, and weight to fly.
      NASA is not a priority for Congress, who fund the agency.

    2. Space is not as priority for NASA, so it evens out.

      Maybe they could fund the device next time with all that Muslim outreach and LGBTQWERTY diversity money. Shoot a Koran and a copy of The Advocate into space for aliens to read if they find it, call it "mission accomplished", and slop all the money saved back into, y'know, actual space projects.

      Just for the novelty.