logos background logos background Logo ETH Logo Insight ETH Zurich on Mars
En De
Landed on 26/11/2018 at 21:52:59
Page content starts here

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.



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.

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.

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.


2018-03-23 to 2019-06-16

Expedition Solar System

focusTerra looks forward to welcoming you to its special exhibition "Expedition Solar System" at ETH Zurich! Besides InSight, ETH is at the forefront of two other space missions. The exhibition will take you on a journey to the Moon, to Mars, to Venus and all the way to the edge of our solar system.

Learn more

InSight lander

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


Learn more about the InSight mission in The Oatmeal's cartoon.