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Marsquakes: NASA mission discovers that Mars is seismically active, among other surprises – CNN



A NASA mission on Mars has recorded evidence of seismic activity, including 174 seismic events across Mars–and 20 events with a magnitude of three or four.
Marsquakes anyone?
Evidence of seismic activity on Mars that surprised the NASA team is part of a suite of six studies, published Monday in the journals Nature Geoscience and Nature Communications, capturing those first 10 months.
Since landing on Mars in November 2018, NASA’s InSight lander has been performing an extensive doctor’s checkup on the red planet, revealing some results that surprised InSight’s science team.
While the instruments onboard InSight were designed to capture two years worth of data, the seismometer, which measures Marsquakes, returned that intriguing data about Mars in much less time.
“We’re using geophysics to probe the deep interior of Mars. For the first time, we’ve established that Mars is a seismically active planet,” said Bruce Banerdt, InSight’s principal investigator. “That activity is greater than that of the moon, but less than on Earth.”
To be clear, a four magnitude Marsquake doesn’t feel the same as it would on Earth because the events on Mars occur deeper beneath the surface than they do on Earth.
If you were standing directly over the spot when a Marsquake happened, you might sense motion, but it wouldn’t cause any damage, said Suzanne Smrekar, InSight’s deputy principal investigator.
Still, confirming that Mars is seismically active was a major thrill for Insight’s team.
“We’ve been planning this mission for the last ten years, so it’s been a long road to get these results,” said Bruce Banerdt, InSight’s principal investigator.
NASA's InSight mission 'hears' first quake on Mars
Mars doesn’t have tectonic plates, unlike Earth, so its quakes occur through long-term cooling of the planet and other processes, scientists say. The brittle outer layers of the crust on Mars have to fracture to maintain themselves on the surface.
And Mars isn’t a perfect sphere, so the contractions of the crust cause stress and quakes to occur in some areas more than others, Smrekar said.
An analysis of the seismic waves detected by InSight revealed that the upper part of the Martian crust, the top six miles down from the surface, is “pretty broken up.” It’s another testament to the planet’s quake activity and fracturing.
“This is the first mission focused on taking direct geophysical measurements of any planet besides Earth, and it’s given us our first real understanding of Mars’ interior structure and geological processes,” said Nicholas Schmerr, an assistant professor of geology at the University of Maryland and a co-author of the seismicity study. “These data are helping us understand how the planet works, its rate of seismicity, how active it is and where it’s active.”
This is just the beginning of the data and secrets InSight can reveal about Mars, the scientists said.
Since the mission began, InSight has registered 450 Marsquakes in its catalog, coming from all across the planet and likely due to different causes, like landslides.
There has been an increase in small, low-frequency Marsquakes since early in the mission, Banerdt said. But they’ve yet to record any large Marsquakes, which is a goal of the mission.
There is no pattern to the quakes, but the increase in small quakes has them wondering if they are related to the Martian orbit or seasons, atmospheric changes or other unknown factors and phenomenon. For now, they remain odd and mysterious.
The InSight team members are still hopeful for big quakes in the future as well.
NASA's InSight mission is struggling to dig into MarsNASA's InSight mission is struggling to dig into Mars
Two other InSight investigations, including the heat probe taking Mars’ internal temperature and the Rotation and Interior Structure Experiment investigating Mars’ core will provide more data as the mission continues.

A fascinating landing site

Originally deemed a flat parking lot by NASA scientists, InSight’s landing site along the Martian equator is more interesting than previously believed based on ten months of studying it.
A dust devil passed over NASA's lander on MarsA dust devil passed over NASA's lander on Mars
InSight landed in an impact crater in Elysium Planitia. The surface is smooth and sandy with some rocks strewn about. The plains of Elysium Planitia, found along the Martian equator, are between highlands to the south and west and volcanoes to the north and east.
Surprisingly, the scientists discovered that it was the Cerberus Fossae fault lines that revealed the most recently geologically and volcanically active areas on Mars to date. The region is 994 miles to the east and also shows evidence of channels that once carried volcanic flow and liquid water.
The data meant volcanic flows occurred in the area within the last ten million years. Quakes are also registering from that area.
“If you take the thermal model of Mars, you wouldn’t expect such recent volcanism,” Smrekar said. “We wouldn’t expect it to be hot enough inside to be producing magma. This says there is some variability at depth on Mars and the source is not obvious at the surface. Something is allowing localized pockets of volcanism to occur.”

Surprising magnetic fields

Previous missions orbiting Mars have revealed that the planet no longer has a global magnetic field like Earth, yet scientists know it did in the ancient past.
The planet’s protective magnetic field mysteriously disappeared around 4.2 billion years ago as Mars cooled. The sun’s solar wind then stripped away the Martian atmosphere, leaving behind the thin one the planet has today.
NASA's InSight mission tunes in to the strange sounds of MarsNASA's InSight mission tunes in to the strange sounds of Mars
InSight’s magnetometer is the first instrument of its kind on the Martian surface and it unexpectedly detected that there are steady, localized magnetic fields 10 times stronger than predicted at the surface of the landing site.
These the fields are coming from magnetized volcanic rocks beneath Elysium Planitia, which formed when Mars had a global magnetic field. Those magnetic field particles became trapped in the rocks as they cooled, ensnaring the magnetization inside.
Because the subsurface of Mars didn’t heat up again to release that magnetization, the rocks remained the same ever since, said Catherine Johnson, the magnetometer co-investigator.
NASA's InSight mission catches Martian sunrise and sunsetNASA's InSight mission catches Martian sunrise and sunset
“The ground-level data give us a much more sensitive picture of magnetization over smaller areas, and where it’s coming from,” said Johnson. “In addition to showing that the magnetic field at the landing site was ten times stronger than the satellites anticipated, the data implied it was coming from nearby sources.”

A unique weather station

InSight also has a weather station simultaneously recording pressure, temperature and wind; it’s unlike any meterological suite ever used on Mars. Understanding how the atmosphere behaves at the Martian surface is key to understanding Mars and its ancient past.
Combined with the magnetometer, the scientists were able to detect 10,000 pressure vortexes moving through the landing site. They believe the vortexes could be the iconic Martian dust devils that spin up columns of dust along the surface, said Philippe Lognonne, principal investigator of the magnetometer.
Get a bird's-eye view of NASA's missions on MarsGet a bird's-eye view of NASA's missions on Mars

Trouble with the heat probe

Unfortunately, the heat probe that was deployed last year immediately ran into difficulty as it hit tough, clod-like dirt material 35 centimeters beneath the surface. The probe is supposed to hammer 9 to 16 feet beneath the surface to test how Mars internal temperature varies.
But the self-hammering probe only works if there’s friction in the soil, otherwise it bounces in place. The probe team will try another tactic, using the lander’s robotic arm to push down on the probe in hopes of continuing the investigation, Banerdt said.
Although they have more data than conclusions, the scientists likened their first 10 months to geophysicists trying to investigate Earth in the early 1900s, using the best tools they had to understand plate tectonics and earthquakes.
“This is an entire new world of processes for us, learning how to categorize these signals,” Banerdt said. “It’s still a very mysterious situation and we’re In the wild west of understanding what’s going on. We anticipate that within the next year, we can use this data to probe the deepest structures of Mars.”

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Contract could land Western University tech on the moon – CBC.ca



Western University has been awarded a multi-million dollar contract by the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) to build a high-tech camera that may be used on rovers for future missions on the moon.

“We’ve not had something on the surface of the moon built by Canada ever,” said Gordon Osinski, director of Western University’s Institute for Earth and Space Exploration.

“A lot of people don’t know about London, Ontario and Western really becoming an epicentre for space research in Canada and internationally,” he added.

The camera, otherwise known as an integrated vision system, will be able to capture shorter and longer wavelengths compared to a typical smartphone camera, allowing researchers to get a better look at the composition of the moon’s surface.

In addition, it will also have a Light Detection and Ranging component to help researchers explore the moon at night and areas where there are shadows.

“Some of the most scientifically interesting places on the moon are these permanently shadowed regions near both poles where we think there might be water hiding away,” Osinski said.

Under the 18-month contract, the CSA will provide $690,123 toward the initial design and development of the high-tech camera.

Osinski said one of the challenges researchers will have to figure out is how the camera will survive getting to and staying on the moon’s surface.

“Anything you send to another planet has to withstand the extreme temperatures and radiation, so that really doubles and triples the price you might think of for something here on Earth,” he said.

“We really are only talking about a few years until we see lots of robots and eventually, humans back on the surface of the moon,” he added.

The project is funded through the CSA’s Lunar Exploration Accelerator Program, where $150 million has been allocated over the next five years to help businesses and post-secondary institutions create new technologies that can be used in lunar orbit or on the moon’s surface.

So far, seven contracts have been awarded worth a total of $4.36 million.

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InSight has been Sensing Dust Devils Sweep Past its Landing Site – Universe Today



The InSight lander has been on the surface of Mars for about a year, and a half dozen papers were just published outlining some results from the mission. Though InSight’s primary mission is to gather evidence on the interior of Mars—InSight stands for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy, and Heat Transport—the lander also keeps track of Martian Meteorology. A new paper reports that InSight has found gravity waves, swirling dust devils, and a steady background rumble of infrasound.

These new results are published in the journal Nature Geoscience. Lead author is Don Banfield from Cornell University. The paper is titled “The atmosphere of Mars as observed by InSight.”

InSight’s primary science instruments are designed to probe the interior structure of Mars. They include the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3), the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS), and the Rotation and Interior Structure Experiment (RISE). But another suite of instruments, called the Auxiliary Payload Sensor Suite (APSS), measures the temperature, wind, atmospheric pressure and magnetic field near the lander.

Altogether the APSS is a weather station—and more—that gives daily weather reports from its location on Mars.

The latest weather reports from Mars according to the InSight lander. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/CAB

Some of the findings are not necessarily that surprising. The daily temperature and pressure fluctuations are more pronounced on Mars than on Earth. “The atmosphere is so thin that it can heat up and cool down much faster than on Earth,” said lead author Banfield in a press release.

But according to the science team, the discovery of gravity waves (not gravitational waves) was a surprise. Gravity waves are generated in a fluid, which in physics includes atmospheric gases, when those fluids are out of equilibrium. As the fluid seeks equilibrium, the waves are propagated.

On Earth gravity waves can create distinct cloud forms called wave clouds. There are still questions about Martian gravity waves. “We’re still working to understand what these waves can teach us about Mars,” Banfield said. In their paper the researchers said they discovered “unexpected similarities between atmospheric turbulence on Earth and Mars.”

Wave clouds over Wisconsin in the United States. Image Credit: By Mr. Glen Talbot - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Wave_clouds.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1325699
Wave clouds over Wisconsin in the United States. Image Credit: By Mr. Glen Talbot – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Wave_clouds.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1325699

“It’s still mysterious as to exactly what causes the signals we’ve heard, but we’ll keep studying.”

don Banfield, Lead Author

The researchers also discovered what’s known as infrasound on Mars, something that they expected to find. Infrasound is a low-frequency rumble that’s outside the range of human hearing, below 10 Hertz. “We expected infrasound would exist, but this is the first direct measurement,” Banfield said. “It’s still mysterious as to exactly what causes the signals we’ve heard, but we’ll keep studying.”

InSight also sensed thousands of dust devils during its first year, though none were ever seen by the lander’s cameras. “We have seen the pressure signature of thousands of dust devils, and we have tried to take images at the right times of day,” Banfield said. “We’ve caught absolutely no dust devils on camera. Other landers have more effortlessly imaged dust devils, so it’s surprising that we haven’t even captured an image of one.”

“This site has more whirlwinds than any other place we’ve landed on Mars while carrying weather sensors,” said Aymeric Spiga, an atmospheric scientist at Sorbonne University in Paris.

Overall, the APSS is giving scientists the opportunity to study up close an atmosphere other than Earth’s. Orbiters and other landers have watched the Martian atmosphere, but InSight is giving us our most continuous and accurate sampling of atmospheric conditions on the red planet. In their paper, the team of researchers states that InSight “extends our understanding of Mars’s meteorology at all scales.”

Not only do the lander’s instruments take frequent measurements of conditions at its locale, but it also sat through a large dust storm shortly after it reached Mars. These large storms occur frequently on Mars, sometimes becoming truly global storms.

True color image of a storm front located near Utopia Planitia, near the northern polar ice cap of Mars. Credit: Credits: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin

Mars is much drier than Earth, obviously. On Earth the moisture in the atmosphere plays a large role. On Mars, it’s the dust that plays a significant role. The airborne dust has an oversize impact on Mars’ thin, sunlight controlled atmosphere. The dust contributes to gravity wave features near the surface, though the researchers don’t have a clear picture of how it all works yet.

Mars researchers are excited by InSight’s capabilities and results so far. Though other satellite-based research has looked at the upper atmosphere for extended periods of time, InSight is the first ground level, in-situ, long-lasting measuring station for the Martian atmosphere. InSight’s APSS measurements not only supplement orbital measurements, but the data can serve to help prove or disprove models of the Martian atmosphere.

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InSight has also detected airglow and noctilucent clouds at Mars, both of which are upper atmosphere phenomena. Along with the gravity waves, the unseen dust devils, and the infrasound, that’s a treasure trove of data for the lander’s first year.

With about one more year to go in the mission, who knows what else the lander will unearth? Especially if the HP3 starts working.


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Western University lands contract to develop space mission imaging system – The London Free Press



Western Professor Jayshri Sabarinathan and Western Space Director Gord Osinki show off a prototype of a camera that will one day be a part of international missions to the moon. (HEATHER RIVERS, The London Free Press)

Western University researchers have an inside track on developing sensory technology that could be used on future space missions.

A team led by the university’s space director Gordon Osinski was chosen by the Canadian Space Agency to develop an “integrated vision system” for rover missions, Western announced Tuesday.

Osinski describes the technology — that would document the surface of the moon and help select samples to bring back to Earth — as the “eyes” of the lunar rovers that could be launched during the next few years.

“One of our ultimate goals is building hardware and launching it into space and being involved in space missions,” he said. “Getting this contract is the first step to — hopefully, eventually — building a camera system that will go on a rover on the surface of the moon.”

The $700,000 contract will fund a team of research scientists, post-doctoral students and graduate students from the faculties of science and engineering which will work on developing the system.

The camera system would use imaging technology to overcome the lack of sunlight on the moon to collect data and help guide and control the rover.

“We’ve been working on a number of concepts for science instruments for over a decade here at Western. A lot of them do revolve around imaging systems,” Osinski said.

The team’s work during the next 18 months will be designing technology that will survive the rigours of space, he said.

“When we build a space camera, it will be multimillions of dollars, everything space-qualified to withstand extreme temperatures and the radiation in space,” Osinski said.  “So, we’re designing this concept with that in mind.”

The team’s mission is to advance the design and technology to a point where they have a prototype “cemented in stone” so they can seek additional funding, he said.

The university’s funding from the Canadian Space Agency comes from a five-year $150-million program to help small and medium-sized businesses develop technologies to be used in lunar orbit and on the moon’s surface.

Western will work with MDA Vision Systems and Sensors on the project.

The university launched the Institute for Earth and Space Exploration last summer with a goal of becoming an international hub for Earth and space exploration research, development and training.

“The institute has taken us to the next level. It signifies that space is an important area across campus,” Osinski said. “This (contract) really established Western as an epicentre for space exploration, research and exploration.”

NASA has committed to return humans to the moon by 2024 in a program known as Artemis. The U.S. space agency also has set a goal of landing on Mars by the 2030s.

Canada has agreed to take part in the NASA-led effort by contributing a smart robotic system to the NASA’s lunar gateway program.


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