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2019-07-19

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.

Seismometer in position

Seismometer in position

InSight placed today its seismometer on the surface of Mars. We cannot wait to register and analyze first marsquakes!

2018-12-13

News from the Red Planet

News from the Red Planet

InSight landed successfully on Mars on 26 November 2018 and had some time to settle, i.e. extending its robotic arm. An Instrument Deployment Camera (IDC), located on its elbow, is going to take photos of the terrain in front of the lander. These images will help mission team members determine where to set InSight's seismometer and heat flow probe — the only instruments ever to be robotically placed on the surface of another planet. A full mosaic of what InSight surroundings look like is expected by early next week.

Another camera, called the Instrument Context Camera, is located under the lander's deck. It will also offer views of the workspace, though the view won't be as pretty as dust accumulated on its lens.
Placement of the instruments is critical, and the team is therefore proceeding with caution. It could take up to two to three months before the instruments have been situated and calibrated.
Two of InSight’s sensors, an air pressure sensor inside the lander and the seismometer sitting on the lander's deck, captured the sound of wind on 1 December 2018, from northwest to southeast.
This is the only phase of the mission during which the seismometer, called the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS), will be capable of detecting vibrations generated directly by the lander. Soon, it will be placed on the Martian surface by InSight's robotic arm in order to detect the lander's movement, allowing it to detect marsquakes. SEIS will detect vibrations caused by them, that can tell us more about the Red Planet’s interior.
Listen how wind sounds on Mars for yourself here.

2018-11-26

InSight landed on Mars!

InSight landed on Mars!

On 26 November 2018 the time had come: InSight successfully landed on the Elysium plain. This was not an easy task. It was only possible thanks to technologies that had been tried and tested in earlier missions and played together perfectly. The InSight mission had to overcome additional difficulties: Compared to other Mars missions, it entered the atmosphere with a slower velocity, was heavier, landed at a higher point and at a meteorologically less favourable time due to a high risk of sandstorms. Beginning from the entry into the atmosphere, the entire landing took six minutes. By this time, the mission had already covered a distance of approximately 483 million kilometres and spent 205 days in space.

The successful landing is an important milestone in fulfilling the scientific objectives of the mission. At ETH Zurich, we are particularly interested in the origin and development of Mars and its inner structure. We can therefore hardly wait until the seismometer is set down on the surface of Mars and the first measurement data arrives, which researchers from the Swiss Seismological Service at ETH and the Institute of Geophysics will then immediately evaluate. InSight is thus also the start of a new era: For the first time, scientific data on the before-mentioned topics will be collected and the first results will be awaited with anticipation. First marsquake measurements are expected for early January if everything goes according to plan.

Have you missed it? Watch the landing here.

2018-11-26

InSight landing live at bQm

InSight landing live at bQm

On 26 November 2018, it's time: InSight lands on Mars and bQm is the place to be to cheer along.

The landing of the InSight lander on Mars promises to be exciting again! Only if it succeeds will researchers at ETH Zurich be able to evaluate first data to find out more about the interior of the red planet. The fact that a successful landing is not that easy is demonstrated by the 60 percent of Mars missions that did not reach their destination as planned.

For a safe landing, a number of different actions need to be perfectly coordinated. First of all, InSight will rotate in such a way that it breaks through the atmosphere with its heat shield first. This shield protects the lander from temperatures of up to 1,500 C°. Then the parachute opens. After entering the atmosphere, the parachute slows the beginning rate of fall (385 m/s) until landing. In support, retro-rockets will be launched to additionally slow down the fall within the last 100 meters.

Come and help us to keep our fingers crossed! The live broadcast of the NASA coverage at bQm starts at 8 pm. The landing is scheduled for around 8.50 pm and we expect to receive first pictures from Mars at 9.15 p.m.. We recommend arriving earlier due to the limited number of seats.

Watch the landing live

bQm Kulturcafe & Bar | Leonhardstrasse 34 | 8092 Zürich | www.bqm-bar.ch

Download event flyer

2018-10-02

Watching the Martian form a different angle

Watching the Martian form a different angle

With its movie "The Martian", Hollywood has shaped the vision many people have of Mars and the life on it. Matt Damon fights as an astronaut for his survival on Mars after an accident. But what is true about this vision and what will we learn with the InSight mission about the interior of the red planet? Join us on 17 October 2018 for a screening and take the chance to discuss with professor Domenico Giardini, doctoral student Grace Crain, and astrophysicist Kevin Schwaninski about reality and fiction. The event will take place in the AudiMax located in the main building of ETH Zurich starting at 15.30.

Further information and the link to the register can be found here (participation is free of charge).

Media reports

TV

Mars: l'EPFZ en mission (RTS Un, Le journal 19h30, 5.5.2018)

Bei der neuesten Mars-Mission "InSight" der Nasa sind auch Messgeräte der ETH Zürich dabei (SRF 1, Tagesschau Spätausgabe, 5.5.2018)

Die NASA will das Innere des Mars erforschen (SRF 1, Tagesschau Hauptausgabe, 4.5.2018)

La Svizzera partecipa a una missione internazionale su Marte (RSI LA 1, Telegiornale sera, 4.5.2018)

Forscher der NASA wollen dem Mars seine innersten Geheimnisse entlocken (SRF 1, Tagesschau 18.00, 4.5.2018)

 

Online

3, 2, 1...liftoff! ETH Zurich is onboard NASA's InSight mission to Mars (cnnmoney.ch, 7.5.2018)

Schweizer Wissen unterstützt neue Weltraummission (cafe-europe.info, 7.5.2018)

Schweizer Fachwissen stützt neue Weltraummission (greaterzuricharea.com, 7.5.2018)

Sur Mars avec l’EPF de Zurich (laliberte.ch, 7.5.2018)

Ein Stück Zürich fliegt zum Mars (nzz.ch, 6.5.2018)

InSight into Red Planet NASA's mission to Mars launches with Swiss technology onboard (swissinfo.ch, 6.5.2018)

ETH fühlt den Puls des Mars (blick.ch, 5.5.2018)

Nasa-Raumsonde InSight Richtung Mars gestartet (20min.ch, 5.5.2018)

«InSight»-Lander zum Roten Planeten gestartet (srf.ch, 5.5.2018)

Mission «InSight» gestartet: Die Landefähre ist zum Mars aufgebrochen (nzz.ch, 5.5.2018)

Jetzt startet ETH-Sonde zum Mars (tagesanzeiger.ch, 5.5.2018)

Schweizer Computer fliegt zum Mars (toponline.ch, 4.5.2018)

Schweizer Fachwissen stützt neue Weltraummission (unternehmerzeitung.ch, 4.5.2018)

Un sismomètre de l'EPFZ va s'envoler sur Mars (lematin.ch, 4.5.2018)

Expedition ins Innere des Mars (nzz.ch, 4.5.2018)

Nasa-Marslander Insight soll am Samstag ins All starten (DerStandard.at, 2.5.2018)

Schweizer Qualität Seismograf entlockt dem Mars Geheimnisse (swissinfo.ch, 2.5.2018)

InSIGHT va ausculter Mars pour nous permettre de mieux la comprendre (letemps.ch, 1.5.2018)

Die ETH Zürich fliegt zum Mars (Der Bund, 30.4.2018)

ETH-Forscher wollen mit Nasa-Mission das Innere des Mars erkunden (blick.ch, 30.4.2018)

Europäer fotografieren den Mars (Wiener Zeitung Online, 30.4.2018)

Die ETH Zürich fliegt zum Mars (tagesanzeiger.ch, 30.4.2018)

ETH-Forscher wollen das Innere des Mars erkunden (Futurezone.ORF.at, 29.4.2018)

Print

Ein Stück Zürich fliegt zum Mars (Neue Zürcher Zeitung NZZ, 7.5.2018)

Hier startet die ETH-Sonde zum Mars (Basler Zeitung, 7.5.2018)

Nasa-Raumsonde InSight gestartet (20 Minuten Zürich, 5.5.2018)

Expedition ins Innere des Mars (Neue Zürcher Zeitung NZZ, 4.5.2018)

InSight, une plongée dans les mystérieux sous-sols de Mars (Le Temps, 3.5.2018)

Den Mars entzaubern (Berner Zeitung, Ausgabe Stadt + Region Bern, 1.5.2018)

ETH will das Marsinnere erkunden (Der Landbote, 30.4.2018)

Bestes Seismometer für den Mars (Tages-Anzeiger, 30.4.2018)

ETH-Forscher wollen mit Nasa-Mission das Innere des Mars erkunden (Schweizerische Depeschenagentur SDA, 29.4.2018)