NASA’s InSight mission is going from strength to strength with news that the Mars lander has successfully positioned its seismometer, ready to listen for marsquakes.
NASA announced the news late on Wednesday, tweeting out a GIF of the instrument being placed on the red dust of Mars. According to the space agency, it’s the first time a scientific instrument has ever been placed on the surface of another planet.
The InSight lander touched down on Mars in late November, ready for a seven-year mission that will see the spacecraft drill deeper into the planet than ever before. It will measure how the planet wobbles on its axis as it orbits the sun and ultimately study the composition of Mars’ core.
Alongside all that science, InSight will also study seismic activity on Mars — just like Earth gets earthquakes, NASA is looking for ground motion, or ‘marsquakes,’ beneath the Martian surface.
But to do all that, NASA had to position InSight’s seismometer just right, which is no easy feat when you’re remotely operating a spacecraft on another planet with an eight-minute communications delay.
‘Seismometer deployment is as important as landing InSight on Mars,’ said InSight Principal Investigator Bruce Banerdt. ‘The seismometer is the highest-priority instrument on InSight: We need it in order to complete about three-quarters of our science objectives.’
Because this isn’t NASA’s first rodeo, a team of scientists has been practising the deployment of instruments with an exact replica of the lander (known as ForeSight) on a fake Mars set back here on Earth. (Fun fact: the fake Martian dust is made from crushed up garnet stones).
And the practice has paid off.
‘InSight’s timetable of activities on Mars has gone better than we hoped,’ said InSight Project Manager Tom Hoffman. ‘Getting the seismometer safely on the ground is an awesome Christmas present.’