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InSight

Taking Mars' pulse at ETH Zurich?

NASA's unmanned InSight mission will make this possible by landing geophysical instruments on the surface of the Red Planet, allowing us to explore its interior. The instruments on board will include a seismometer to record marsquakes and meteorite impacts. Several groups at ETH Zurich are responsible for the sensor's data acquisition and control electronics and will evaluate and interpret the acquired data.

News

2019-07-19

Marsquakes Rock and Roll

Marsquakes Rock and Roll

Fifty years after Apollo 11 astronauts deployed the first seismometer on the surface of the Moon, NASA InSight’s seismic experiment transmits data giving researchers the opportunity to compare marsquakes to moon and earthquakes.

Seismologists operating the Marsquake Service at ETH Zurich literally rocked and rolled as they experienced, for the first time, two “marsquakes” in the university’s quake simulator. Researchers uploaded actual data from marsquakes detected on Martian solar day or Sol 128 and 173.The marsquakes were detected by the SEIS seismometer, whose highly sensitive electronics were delivered by the Aerospace Electronics and Instruments laboratory at ETH.

Watch the video taken in the simulator!

Two Types of Marsquakes

SEIS contains arguably the most sensitive seismometer ever operated, capable of detecting even the faintest seismic signals on Mars. Researchers had to amplify the marsquake signals by a factor of 10 million in order to make the quiet and distant tremors perceptible in ETH Zurich’s quake simulator and to compare them with a similarly amplified moon and earthquake.

“We are currently observing two families of quakes on Mars,” says Dr. Simon Stähler. “The first quake was a high frequency event more similar to a moonquake than we expected. The second quake was a much lower frequency, and we think this may be due to the distance. The lower frequency quake likely occurred further away from the seismometer. Compared to the duration of earthquakes, both types of the marsquakes last longer.”

Earth, Moon, and Marsquakes

While seismic waves that travel through the Earth typically persist between 10s of seconds to a few minutes, moonquakes can last up to an hour or more. The extent of the seismic signal is due to distance and to differences in geological structures. If one compares the surfaces of the Earth and the Moon, it might be surprising to learn that the Earth’s crust is more homogeneous than that of the Moon. Billions of years of meteorite impacts fractured the lunar crust and there is no process, on the Moon, that “bakes” the rocks together. On the Earth, volcanism, interior heating, and plate tectonics, as well as erosion and deposition from water and wind meld broken rocks together creating a relatively unbroken and layered crust quickly erasing the traces of meteorite impacts.

“The heterogeneous lunar crust scatters seismic waves, similar to the reverberating echoes one might experience when calling out in rugged mountain terrain,” says Dr. John Clinton, who leads operations at the Marsquake Service at ETH Zurich. The Earth’s crust and mantle, by comparison, are transparent to seismic waves – much like a wide-open space is to sound waves. While seismic sensors on Earth “hear” earthquake signals cleanly, on the Moon seismic sensors detect a plethora of echoes that distort the signal making it very hard to even identify where the signals begin. While seismic research is still in its infancy on Mars, marsquakes appear to be somewhere in between moon and earthquakes. Researchers recognize the first seismic signals of the marsquake, but the signals that follow include more echoes than scientists expected. The duration of a marsquake signal can be approximately 10 to 20 minutes. Scientists do not yet know whether the fractured part of the Martian crust is just few kilometers deep, as it is on the moon, or if it is shallower.

Marsquake Service Ops

Domenico Giardini, Professor of Geophysics and Seismology, leads the Swiss participation in the InSight mission. He established the Marsquake Service (MQS) center at ETH Zurich. Roughly, twice each day, an international team of ten seismologists analyses seismic data from Mars with the aim of detecting and characterizing marsquakes.

Since there is only one seismometer on Mars, Giardini and his team combine methods taken from the early days of seismology, when there were only a few seismometers on Earth, with modern analytic methods for locating seismic events. Ultimately, researchers look to the seismic data to answer questions, not only about the interior geological structure of Mars, but also how early planets in the inner solar system formed more than four billion years ago.

The Marsquake Service is a collaborative ground service operation led by ETH Zurich and includes seismologists from the Institute of Geophysics and the Swiss Seismological Service at ETH Zurich, IPG Paris, ISAE Toulouse, University of Bristol, Imperial College London, MPS Gottingen, and JPL Pasadena.

2019-04-23

First potential marsquakes detected

First potential marsquakes detected

On 19 December 2018, the NASA InSight mission placed a seismometer on the surface of Mars. It aims to record marsquakes in order to to gain a better understanding of the planet’s interior. Since the very first day, the data recorded is continuously scrutinized by the Marsquake Service led by ETH Zurich, operated by the Seismology and Geodynamics group and the Swiss Seismological Service. At first, the data mostly showed the frequency and intensity of dust devils, whirlwinds which are very common on Mars. This already proved that the seismometer was performing well. On 6 April 2019 (Sol 128, 15:32 local Mars time), researchers from ETH on duty for the Marsquake Service discovered a potential marsquake in the data. It is the first signal that appears to have come from inside Mars, even though its exact cause is still an on-going scientific investigation.

Three other signals of likely seismic origin occurred on 14 March, 10 April, and 11 April 2019. These signals are more ambiguous to the InSight team than the one on 6 April, but do not appear to be clearly associated with atmospheric disturbances or other known noise sources. They are smaller than the event on 6 April and were only detected by the more sensitive broadband sensors. The team will continue to study these events to try to determine their origin.

Based on these first records, marsquakes seem to be distinct to earthquakes. According to their size and long duration, they are more similar to quakes recorded on the Moon by the Apollo programme. Whereas on Earth plate tectonics is the dominant process that provokes quakes, on the Moon the cooling and contraction causes tremors. The relevant processes at Mars are not yet fully understood. In any case, stress is built up over time until it is strong enough to break the crust. Different materials can change the speed of seismic waves or reflect them, allowing scientists to use these waves to learn about the interior of a planet and model its formation. The events recorded until now are too small to provide useful data on the deep Martian interior. Nevertheless, they mark a milestone of the InSight mission, proving the efficiency of the data processing and analysis capabilities, both developed at ETH Zurich.

2019-04-09

InSight at TEDxZurich

InSight at TEDxZurich

With the goal of studying the interior of Mars, the NASA Insight mission landed on November 26 on Elysium Planitia and a geophysical package including a seismometer was installed later on. Domenico Giardini, professor of Seismology and Geodynamics at ETH Zurich, gave a talk on the InSight mission last November in the frame of TEDxZurich.

He delivered with his team the control electronics for the seismometer on the NASA InSight mission and directs the MarsQuake Service, charged to detect and locate quakes and meteoritic impacts on Mars. He gave insight into how his team plans to find out more about the internal structure of Mars in order to understand the formation of the planet and its evolution. They also want to find out, why the magnetic field stopped, the ancient oceans disappeared, and if Mars was and still is capable to host life. Answering these questions on Mars will in turn enable to better understand why Earth is so unique and more generally the origin and evolution of the solar system.

Listen to the full talk here.

2019-07-03

Successful positioning of seismometer

Successful positioning of seismometer

Since the SEIS package with the sensors was placed on the ground about one meter away from the spacecraft, recent progress has focussed on levelling SEIS. Further work focused on removing ambient noise disturbing SEIS. One source of such noise is probably the tether - the cable between the lander and SEIS.

The tether has been let down to the ground to remove tension in the cable. The past few days have been spent releasing a shunt on the tether near SEIS, creating a mechanical separation between the tether and the seismometer in order to further stop noise reaching the sensor. Additionally, the seismometer has now crouched down in order to hear faint signals better. Now that SEIS is levelled, the main sensor, the VBB, has since begun sending back data. First impressions look good, but there is still a lot of analysis to be conducted.

InSight lander

Explore the interactive graphic and learn more about the InSight lander and its instruments.