By Tim Binnall
Scientists studying data obtained by NASA's InSight Mars lander have reportedly released a slew of papers detailing some of the initial findings from the mission. The $850 million craft, which is equipped with an array of instruments designed to examine conditions on the Red Planet, touched down on the surface of Mars in November of 2018. Since that time, researchers from various fields have been working with information collected by the lander in the hopes of developing a better understanding of the still-mysterious world.
By way of six different scientific papers published on Monday, we are now getting our first glimpse of what the InSight lander has uncovered. One intriguing realm studied by the craft centered around so-called 'Marsquakes' on the Red Planet. According to data collected by the lander, there were reportedly a whopping 174 seismic events on Mars between February and September of 2019. Since Mars does not have tectonic plates like the Earth, it is theorized that these quakes could be caused by the planet cooling or perhaps volcanic activity.
Another interesting discovery, described as "weird stuff" by a researcher working on the project, was gleaned from the InSight lander's data concerned weather conditions on Mars, specifically dust devils. Scientists studying feedback from instruments measuring air pressure in the atmosphere of the Red Planet found a jaw-dropping 10,000 instances in which swirling air was detected. What was particularly puzzling about these vortexes is that they did not pick up any dust despite being in an area where such a thing occur.
Meanwhile, a different team of researchers looking at the magnetic field of Mars expressed surprise by how the instruments aboard the InSight lander indicated that it was ten times more powerful than previously thought. "It's not unreasonably stronger," planetary scientist Catherine Johnson said, "but because we didn't know, we were like, 'wow, ok!'" Other studies based on the craft's observations involved the geology of Mars and sounds detected on the Red Planet.
All told, the voluminous amount of information produced by the InSight craft has already provided a more fulsome understanding of the conditions on Mars and will likely continue to help develop a clearer picture of what it is currently like on the Red Planet. Such knowledge is, of course, critically important when it comes to the ultimate goal of safely sending humans to the faraway world that has long captured our imagination.