The First Results from NASA’s Insight Lander! | SciShow News
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The First Results from NASA’s Insight Lander! | SciShow News


[♩INTRO] In 2021, Mars is set to receive new robotic
inhabitants. But until then, we have other explorers hard
at work learning what makes the Red Planet tick. Like NASA’s InSight lander! InSight touched down in November 2018, and its first results were finally released
this week in two Nature journals. The results reveal a seismically active world
with magnetic and atmospheric phenomena, all begging for
further investigation. InSight lives in a sediment-filled crater
in the Elysium Planitia region a volcanic plain a bit north of where Curiosity
is. Its mission is to learn what it’s like beneath
Mars’s surface. And to do that, it brought along some really
cool instruments. For one, it has Mars’s first seismometer
in forty years! At first, that could seem like a weird thing
to bring to Mars. Because until recently, we thought the planet
was geologically dead, with not an earthquake, or… a marsquake,
to be found. But the hope was that this seismometer could
at least help us learn about other seismic activity, from things like meteorite
impacts or dust devils. And it delivered! As of September, InSight had recorded 174
seismic events. And at least twenty-four of them bore resemblance
to minor earthquakes. Now, Mars doesn’t have tectonic plates, the main thing that causes earthquakes here
at home, but this suggests it still has some kind of
quakes! So, Mars isn’t dead after all! We’re still learning how these things work,
but they may be caused by Mars’s continual cooling over the billions
of years since it formed. As it cools, it contracts, which applies stress. And given enough time, the material under
stress could break, causing a quake. These twenty-four events happened so deep that you and I probably couldn’t feel them
from the surface. But InSight could! And by looking at how the vibrations travel
through the planet, it could teach us about Mars’s geology and
what the planet is made of. Besides the seismometer, InSight also has the first magnetometer to grace the Martian
surface. Mars doesn’t have a planet-wide magnetic
field anymore, but some of the rocks deep in its crust are
still magnetic. And InSight’s instrument can detect that. So far, it’s measured the strength of these
local magnetic fields and how they change over the course of the
day. But it’s also teaching about Mars a whole. Given how deep these rocks appear to be buried, scientists estimate they’re about 3.9 billion
years old. That’s slightly younger than when most scientists
believe Mars’s planet-wide magnetic field shut down, so it could mean that field lasted a little
longer than we thought! Finally, this is all cool, but InSight is
leaving us with a few mysteries, too. Like, its atmospheric instruments found that
night-time gravity waves are more abundant than prior data suggest. Gravity waves are regular, periodic changes
in air pressure, temperature, or wind speed, caused by changes in the air
buoyancy. And they’re entirely different from gravitational
waves, the distortions in space-time we detect when
black holes collide. But despite seeing them on Mars, we don’t
really know what they mean. InSight also found the first evidence of infrasound
on Mars sound waves with frequencies lower than what
we can hear. But again, we’re not sure what that can
teach us. So there’s a lot left to learn! And we’re also waiting for
two of InSight’s other instruments, including its heat probe, to collect enough
data to publish. Fortunately, the mission was expected from
the outset to take twenty-four months to meet all its
objectives, so our little lander is still on track. In related news, Mars’s two lumpy moons, Phobos and Deimos, are scheduled to get their
own visitor! Last week, the Japanese Space Agency JAXA
announced that their Martian Moons eXploration mission,
or MMX, has entered the development phase. That means it’s no longer just a research
project: Engineers can officially start developing
hardware and software. Mars may have two moons to Earth’s one,
but they’re way smaller. On average, Phobos is only twenty-three kilometers
across, roughly the length of a half-marathon, and
Deimos is about half of that. We’re also not sure how Mars got them. They may have started in the asteroid belt, then been flung towards Mars by Jupiter’s
gravity. Or they could have formed like Earth’s moon
probably did: from the debris left over after something
smashed into Mars. One way to answer this question would be to
study the moons’s compositions and see how similar they are to Mars itself. And that’s what MMX will do! After surveying both moons, the spacecraft
will land on Phobos and collect at least a ten-gram sample from at least two centimeters below the surface. Then, it will return that sample to Earth
for analysis. No one has ever gone to Phobos like this, but sample return missions are no stranger
to JAXA. Their Hayabusa2 probe is currently on its
way home carrying a bit of the asteroid Ryugu. But the MMX mission takes further strides
by collecting more material and by using a corer instead of a tiny cannonball
to blast material off the surface. The craft will also have to navigate another
planet’s gravitational field, rather than visit a space potato freely orbiting
the Sun like Ryugu. But it will be worth it! Besides helping us understand where the moons
came from, studying bits of Phobos will help scientists
answer questions about the history of water in the solar system. For instance, if the moon formed from Mars, it could carry a record of Mars’s watery
past. Or if it formed in the asteroid belt, it could
help us understand the space rocks that may have brought Mars and Earth their
water early-on. The mission will also provide a look at how
Mars has evolved in general over billions of years. That’s because both moons are suspected
of accumulating material kicked off the planet’s surface during meteorite
impacts bits thrown into the air fast enough to wind
up in space! MMX will even help determine how humans could
visit these moons and collect samples themselves. Under the current timeline, MMX is looking
to launch in 2024 and return before the end of the decade. Which, conveniently, leaves us plenty of time
before Phobos is scheduled to be ripped apart by Mars’s
gravity… in 30 to 50 million years. So, we’ve got some wiggle room — and plenty
to learn in the meantime. Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow
Space News is brought to you by today’s President of
Space, Matthew Brant! Matthew is one of our patrons on Patreon,
and they, along with the rest of our Patreon community,
help make this show happen. So, thanks, Matthew! We wouldn’t be able to talk about this much
cool space stuff without you. If you want to become our next President of
Space or just help support the show in some other way, you can learn more at Patreon.com/SciShow. [♩OUTRO]

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