Mars: Nasa lander looks inside the planet – and discovers amazing things

  • fromTanja Banner


The NASA lander “InSight” makes it possible to look deep below the surface of Mars. Amazing events from the past can be discovered there.

Pasadena / Zurich – The NASA lander “InSight” * has been investigating Mars for almost three years. In contrast to the rovers “Curiosity” and “Perseverance”, “InSight” cannot move from its position, but it can nevertheless examine a large area of ​​the red planet from its landing site – because the focus of “InSight” is directed downwards , inside the red planet. For example, since landing, the NASA lander has already found out how the interior of Mars is constructed * and has measured and recorded numerous Mars quakes. * Now “InSight” has taken another look below the surface of the red planet and provided research data with which the soil can be analyzed to a depth of 200 meters.

“When people one day on Mars* land, they have to know what’s under their feet, ”writes the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) Zurich on its website, which is dedicated to the Mars lander“ InSight ”. ETH has developed and maintains an instrument that is on board the Mars lander: the seismometer. ETH experts have now used a method that was developed on earth to use the seismometer to find out what the soil is like under “InSight”.

Nasa lander analyzes the Martian underground down to a depth of 200 meters

To do this, they used surface waves that arise when wind hits Mars structures such as craters or hills. Depending on how dense the material is below the surface, the waves spread out differently in it – from which conclusions can be drawn about the material. The researchers were able to map the subsurface to a depth of 200 meters. They found different layers:

  • First layer: consists of regolith, mainly sandy material – about three meters thick
  • Second layer: consists of larger boulders – about 15 meters thick
  • Third layer: Lava flows – about 150 meters thick
  • In the middle of the third layer: Sediment layer at a depth of 30 to 75 meters

Mars lander “InSight”: Was there a major meteorite impact?

With the help of the seismometer, the scientists can derive all kinds of information from these different layers. The second layer, consisting of larger boulders, is said to have been created by a meteorite impact on Mars: it is ejection that was thrown into the air by the meteorite impact and fell back to the surface. The first dried lava flow begins under the first two layers and can be dated to an age of around 1.7 billion years.

With the help of its seismometer, the NASA lander “InSight” allows researchers to look 200 meters below the Martian soil. (Artist’s impression)

© ETH Zurich / Géraldine Zenhäusern

A 40-meter-thick layer of sedimentary rock separates the first from a second lava flow – these fine-grain deposits could have been created by wind or water, the researchers suspect. The deeper lava flow was formed about 3.6 billion years ago, at a time when there was great volcanic activity on Mars, according to the study, which was published in the journal Nature Communications. “That helps us to find out what the timing was between the various activities,” explains Bruce Banerdt, an employee at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) of the US space agency NASA* and a co-author of the study, opposite the Inverse portal.

Mars Research: Study Shows Long Pause in Volcanic Activity

“The fact that this layer of sediment is between the two volcanic layers shows that volcanic activity paused – quite a long pause because it takes a long time for the sedimentary rocks to form.” Geologists would infer that it was “Not only is there a uniform history of volcanism, but that it may have happened in several pulses,” continues Banerdt.

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Why Mars is being explored in so much detail

But why do people research Mars so closely? “We know the structure of the earth pretty well, but we don’t know exactly how it came to be what it is,” explains Banerdt. On Mars, however, many of the early processes that formed Mars are still intact, as there is less geological activity there than on Earth. “Mars is much more untouched,” emphasizes Banerdt and goes on to explain: “We can look at the internal structure of Mars and largely deduce that the earth could have looked like this 4.5 billion years ago”. The aim is to better understand how the earth came into being.

The mission “InSight” aims to answer fundamental questions about the formation of rocky planets through the exploration of Mars. Because in our solar system alone there are four of them – which developed completely differently after their formation in the hot solar nebula: While the earth is life-friendly, Venus is considered a glowing hell, and Mercury has enormous temperature fluctuations. The planet Mars is cold and inhospitable, it has almost no atmosphere and no magnetic field to protect the surface. Nevertheless, missions are always looking for life there – most recently the Mars rover “Perseverance” answered an important question *, a picture that the NASA rover sent to Earth * caused a sensation and a NASA video shows a historical event on the Mars*. (tab) * is an offer from IPPEN.MEDIA.

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