First scientific results of the InSight mission on Mars are published


Recent photograph of InSight on the surface of Mars. It shows the two booms (left and right) that make up the TWINS instrument. ©NASA/JPL-Caltech.


The scientific journal Nature Geoscience today publishes the first scientific results obtained by NASA's InSight mission on Mars. These are, in particular, seismic and atmospheric studies. The Centro de Astrobiología (CAB, CSIC-INTA) participates in this mission with the TWINS instrument, a set of temperature and wind sensors that, in addition to modeling the Martian atmosphere, has a capital contribution in the seismic study that this mission is performing on the Red Planet.


NASA's mission to Mars InSight (Interior exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) landed at Elysium Planitia on November 26, 2018. Its objective is to determine the interior composition and structure of Mars, as well as the thermal state, seismicity and rate of creation of current impact craters. The journal Nature Geoscience today publishes a set of articles presenting the 10-month results of geophysical observations made by InSight's onboard instruments: a seismometer, two cameras, atmospheric pressure sensors, temperature and wind, a magnetometer and a radiometer. 

The SEIS (Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure) aims to detect, discriminate and characterize mars' local seismic activity. This instrument began to perform its measurements 72 suns (Martian days) after landing and data obtained in the first 168 soles, until July 31, 2019, have confirmed that Mars is a seismicly active planet. In this first measurement period, a total of 174 seismic events have been detected, including at least 20 of them with magnitudes of moment (a measure of the intensity of the systems) ranging from 3 to 4, both locally and at distances as far away as Cerberus Fossae, about 1600 km east of The Place where InSight is located.

Mars' atmosphere is different from Earth's: it is dim and thin, although rich in dust aerosols, and covers a dry surface. For this reason, its on-site study allows scientists to expand their knowledge of planetary atmospheres. The InSight mission features a set of weather sensors called the Auxiliary Payload Subsystem (APSS), which includes the Pressure Sensor (PS) and the FluxGate Magnetometer (IFG) inside the Module landing; and two weather sensors on the upper deck, each with wind speed and direction sensors, and air temperature sensors. These sensors, called TWINS (Temperature and Wind Sensors for InSight), have been provided by the Centro de Astrobiología.

Measurements of the magnetometer indicate that the local magnetic field, considered the rest of an ancient global magnetic field, turns out to be ten times more intense than orbital estimates, which is a surprise for researchers and will require future research.

APSS allows to measure weather with unprecedented continuity, accuracy and sampling frequency, measuring processes locally, regionally and even globally. At the local level, this detailed characterization is allowing us to study atmospheric turbulence with a very high level of sensitivity, which will help us not only in understanding the behavior of the Martian atmosphere, but also to feed and improve Martian Mesoscalan weather models.

Although Homestead Hollow (the name given to the Elysium Planitia area where InSight landed) was initially expected to be an ideal area for the day-long generation of dust swirls known as 'dust devils', however, although they have been recorded multitude of pressure drops, no 'dust devil' has been detected, its optical counterpart. For the studies that are being carried out based on these data, they raise two hypotheses: either in the soil there is not enough dust to be injected into the small whirlwinds and thus form the 'dust devils'; or there has been the bad fortune to take the images when they did not pass in front of the cameras.

During the night there have also been turbulent phenomena that cannot be produced by ascents of air masses heated by the Sun. One hypothesis that is shuffled is that this night turbulence is of mechanical origin, that is, the large thermal inversion at night makes the atmospheric layer more glued to the ground decoupled from it, producing a wind speed gradient at different heights (shear) that triggers observed nocturnal turbulence. Hillside winds from Mount Elysium to the northwest and the Martian dichotomy to the south with their corresponding associated gravity waves have been detected on the regional scale. The study of the wind pattern by TWINS will help to complement the partial characterization of the pattern measured by REMS in Gale Crater, given that the wind sensor of this instrument (also developed by the CAB) suffered severe damage during the landing of Curiosity, and could only be used partially after the development of specific algorithms that mitigated this problem.  Finally, on the global scale, the high sensitivity in the pressure measurements in the landing zone has allowed to identify instability fronts produced at long distances at mid-latitudes.

InSight's observations of the atmosphere of Mars will be key to improving future forecasting and exploration capabilities.


Fuente: UCC-CAB

Fecha: 2020-02-24


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