International Space Agencies – Missions and Discoveries

NASA’s InSight Mission


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : InSight Mission

Mains level : Key findings of the InSight Mission


It’s now more than a year since NASA’s InSight lander mission touched down on Mars on November 26, 2018. This week, NASA published a report regarding findings on the Mars.

About InSight Mission

  • The Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport mission is a robotic lander designed to study the deep interior of the planet Mars.
  • It is the first mission dedicated to looking deep beneath the Martian surface.
  • Among its science tools are a seismometer for detecting quakes, sensors for gauging wind and air pressure, a magnetometer, and a heat flow probe designed to take the planet’s temperature.
  • The InSight mission is part of NASA’s Discovery Program.
  • It is being supported by a number of European partners, which include France’s Centre National d’Études Spatiales (CNES), the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and the United Kingdom Space Agency (UKSA).

Key findings of the Mission

Underground: rumbles

  • Mars trembles more often than expected, but also more mildly.
  • This emerged from readings of the ultra-sensitive seismometer, called the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS).
  • The instrument enables scientists to “hear” multiple trembling events from hundreds to thousands of miles away.
  • Mars doesn’t have tectonic plates like Earth, but it does have volcanically active regions that can cause rumbles.

The surface: Magnetism

  • Billions of years ago, Mars had a magnetic field.
  • Although it is no longer present, it left behind what NASA describes as “ghosts” – magnetized rocks that are now between 61 m to several km below ground.
  • InSight is equipped with a magnetometer, which has detected magnetic signals.
  • At a Martian site called Homestead hollow, the magnetic signals are 10 times stronger than what was predicted earlier (based on data from orbiting spacecraft).

In the wind: dust devils

  • InSight measures wind speed, direction and air pressure nearly continuously.
  • Weather sensors have detected thousands of passing whirlwinds, which are called dust devils when they pick up grit and become visible.
  • The site has more whirlwinds than any other place where a landing has been made on Mars while carrying weather sensors.
  • Despite all that activity in the wind and frequent imaging, InSight’s cameras have yet to see dust devils. But SEIS can feel these whirlwinds pulling on the surface.

The core: still to come

  • InSight has two radios. One is for regularly sending and receiving data. The other radio, which is more powerful, is designed to measure the “wobble” of Mars as it spins.
  • This X-band radio, also known as the Rotation and Interior Structure Experiment (RISE), can eventually reveal whether the planet’s core is solid or liquid.
  • A solid core would cause Mars to wobble less than a liquid one would.
  • This first year of data is just a start, NASA said in the statement. When it is two years on Earth, Mars will have completed one year.
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments