NASA’s InSight lander has finally detected 3 big Mars quakes, including one that lasted nearly 90 minutes

InSight mars lander
An illustration of the InSight lander on Mars.

NASA’s Insight lander was sitting silently in the empty dust plains of Mars on Saturday, as it had for the past 1,000 Martian days, when the ground began to rumble.

The shaking continued for nearly an hour and a half.

The robot beamed the data from its seismometer back to Earth, and NASA scientists realized they had what they’d been waiting for: a big quake. Insight had recorded a magnitude 4.2 Mars quake – the kind NASA scientists had been wanting to observe since Insight touched down on the red planet in November 2018.

Two other big ones recently rolled through, too: On August 25, the lander felt two quakes of magnitudes 4.2 and 4.1.

Before these, the biggest quake the lander had felt was a 3.7 in 2019.

insight lander seismometer mars
The InSight’s lander seismometer, as photographed by the lander’s camera on September 23, 2020.

“It looks like there are fewer large quakes on Mars, relative to the number of small quakes, than we would expect. It’s a little bit puzzling,” Bruce Banerdt, the principal investigator for InSight, told Insider in April.

But the Saturday quake was five times more energetic than the 3.7-magnitude rumble.

These big quakes offer a missing piece of the Martian puzzle. Scientists can use their seismic waves to learn about the makeup of Mars’ core, in the same way the waves of an X-ray or CAT scan are used in the body. Getting more detailed views into Mars’ insides can yield clues about how the planet was born and how it has evolved over time. That knowledge could be crucial in astronomers’ efforts to find other worlds that might host life.

“By looking at Mars’ core and looking at Mars’ crust, and understanding that these haven’t changed very much in the last 4.5 billion years, we can get a glimpse into what the Earth might have looked like very early on,” Banerdt said in April. “Mars is helping us to understand just how rocky planets form and how they evolve in general.”

Mars quakes have revealed an Earth-like planet with a moon-like crust

InSight has detected more than 700 quakes in total, and they’ve revealed a lot about the planet’s interior already. Scientists have learned that Mars’ crust is thinner than they thought, and that it’s more like the moon’s crust than Earth’s – it’s broken up from asteroid impacts.

Because the Martian crust is so dry and broken, its quakes last much longer than earthquakes. They reverberate between cracks in the crust, and there’s not as much moisture to absorb them. So the quakes InSight has felt have typically lasted 10 to 40 minutes.

Recently, scientists have also used the quakes to determine that Mars has a molten core. They’re not yet sure whether a solid inner core hides beneath a molten outer core, the way it does on Earth.

NASA creatively solved an energy crisis to keep InSight’s seismometer on

insight mars lander red dust solar panels
The InSight lander’s camera captured one of its solar panels covered in dust on February 14, 2021.

InSight almost had to shut down its seismometer earlier this year. The robot was experiencing an energy shortage because dust was building up on its solar panels.

Among NASA’s other Mars robots, big gusts of wind have whooshed through regularly enough to clear dust off the solar panels. But the plains where InSight sits turned out to be abnormally still.

Then to make matters worse, Mars was entering the coldest part of its year during our spring and summer, when the red planet got the furthest from the sun in its oval-shaped orbit. That meant InSight would need to funnel even more energy into its heaters to survive.

So NASA decided to put InSight into hibernation. In February, the lander began incrementally shutting off its scientific instruments in order to conserve power to keep itself warm. In June, the team was preparing to shut down the seismometer, and Banerdt told a NASA group that the lander’s life might not last past April 2022, according to SpaceNews.

But then the InSight team crafted an ingenious way to clean off the solar panels. They instructed the robot to scoop up dirt and slowly trickle it next to the panels. Some of the large grains of sand got caught in the wind, bounced off the solar panels, and took some stubborn dust with them – enough to add about 30 watt-hours to Insight’s daily energy production after the first attempt.

They carried out that process several more times in order to ensure a steady enough power supply to keep the seismometer running through June and July, when Mars started swinging back towards the sun.

“If we hadn’t acted quickly earlier this year, we might have missed out on some great science,” Banerdt said in a press release.

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NASA is sending a water-hunting lunar rover to a shadowy crater on the moon’s south pole

nasa viper moon rover on lunar surface dark shadows
An artist’s concept of NASA’s Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover, or VIPER.

NASA is embarking on a new moon shot, aiming to one day build a permanent crewed station on the lunar surface. Before it sends any people, though, the agency is launching a golf-cart-sized robot to the moon’s freezing, shadowy south pole.

The rover, called the Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER), will spend 100 days mapping out water sources – the first such survey of the lunar south pole.

Eventually, NASA hopes to set up a permanent base there, then use it to springboard the first human missions to Mars as early as the 2030s. That’s why it’s important to know where water is: It can be broken down into its component elements, hydrogen and oxygen, and both of those can be turned into rocket fuel.

Flying humans to Mars will require a lot of propellant, which is incredibly heavy for a rocket to carry as it lifts off from Earth. So fueling up on the moon may be necessary for NASA to send astronauts to the red planet.

“Where there’s water, there’s fuel,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in a town hall on Tuesday. “That could well be a gas station for us in the future.”

On Monday, NASA announced that it has chosen a landing site for VIPER to search for that gas station: a mountainous region next to the moon’s Nobile Crater. The agency plans to send the robot there in 2023.

That area is up high in a mountain range, which will help NASA maintain communication with the rover from Earth. It also hosts a variety of environments – from permanently shadowed craters at nearly -400 degrees Fahrenheit to sunny regions that are closer to 0 degrees.

Spacecraft orbiting the moon have already identified signs of water on the south pole, but NASA doesn’t know precisely where that water is or what its chemical makeup is like.

“When we’re down there on the moon, working with scales that you and I are more familiar with than orbital scales, we really don’t know where that water is,” Anthony Colaprete, lead scientist on the VIPER project, said in a briefing on Monday. “We wanted to broadly understand a range of environments on the moon. The Nobile region offered that.”

VIPER will be NASA’s first moon rover in 50 years. If successful, it will also be the first machine to ever land on the moon’s south pole without deliberately crashing.

VIPER will follow ‘corridors of light’ and dip into ancient shadows

VIPER will land in an exceptionally shadowy region of the moon.

“The poles of the moon are dramatic, especially the south pole, where ancient impact basins have lifted mountains that dwarf Mount Everest,” Colaprete said.

The sun, just barely peeking over the horizon, creates shadows of those mountains that can stretch hundreds of miles. That could pose a problem for VIPER, which relies on solar power. So the rover will need to follow “corridors of light,” Colaprete said, as shadows move across the pole.

nasa moon rover viper
An engineering model of VIPER created to evaluate the rover’s mobility system. Testing involves driving the rover over various slopes, textures and soils.

But occasionally, the rover will dip into craters that lie in permanent shadow, areas sunlight hasn’t touched in billions of years. These craters are a big reason NASA chose this landing spot, since those shadows could preserve ancient reservoirs of ice.

All in all, NASA expects VIPER to cover 10 to 15 miles and visit six spots with different temperature ranges, where water ice could lie at various depths below the surface. VIPER will drill into the lunar surface to find that ice.

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NASA has collected its first Mars sample. But it needs $4 billion, 10 years, and new technology to bring the rock to Earth.

perseverance rover gold sample tube with grey rock inside
A rock core inside the Perseverance rover’s sample tube, September 1, 2021.

The finger-width chunk of rock NASA’s Perseverance rover drilled last week is the fruit of a $2.4 billion labor.

The rock is a sample core from a boulder on Mars – the first of many that NASA hopes Perseverance will gather and store in pursuit of a fundamental question: Did Mars ever host microbial life?

The rover’s current location, a 28-mile-wide basin called Jezero Crater, is the ideal place to hunt for an answer. More than 3.5 billion years ago, a river spilled over the edge of the crater and filled it with water. That river very likely carried clay and minerals into the lake, which then fell to the bottom – possibly trapping microbes and enshrining them as fossils in sedimentary stone.

The engineers and scientists who designed and built Perseverance waited nearly 10 years for the rover to reach Jezero Crater and collect its first sample. But they’ll have to wait at least another decade to get their hands on that rock.

perseverance rover on mars takes selfie with ingenuity helicopter
The Perseverance Mars rover standing by NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter.

That’s because NASA has to send a follow-up mission to Mars to retrieve Perseverance’s samples and bring them to Earth. The agency hasn’t yet secured the budget for that project, which could cost $4 billion, nor has it developed the necessary technology.

“Collecting those samples is a first step of one of the most difficult missions ever undertaken,” Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s associate administrator, said in a February briefing, before Perseverance landed on Mars.

Although this “Mars Sample Return” mission is still in the proposal phase, NASA estimates it could launch as early as 2026. On that timeline, Perseverance’s samples would land on Earth in 2031.

In the meantime, the agency’s most advanced rover yet will keep roaming Jezero Crater, collecting samples that don’t yet have a way off the red planet.

NASA’s plan is ‘mind-bendingly complicated’

illustration of mini rocket launching from mars lander
An illustration shows how NASA’s Mars Sample Return mission would launch Perseverance’s samples from the surface of Mars.

To get Perseverance’s samples to Earth, NASA must launch two rockets carrying two different spacecraft: a lander and an orbiter.

The lander would be the largest ever sent to Mars, and it would have to touch down in Jezero Crater within 100 yards of the spot where Perseverance stashes its samples. The lander would then roll out a ramp to deploy a “fetch rover” that would gather the tubes and load them into a container aboard a small rocket attached to the lander.

Then NASA would attempt a major first: The rocket must launch the sample container into Mars’s orbit. Nobody has ever launched anything from the surface of Mars.

Once in orbit, the rocket would release the sample container, putting it on a path that would line up with the orbiter (which would be be the largest spacecraft NASA has ever sent to Mars). Then the orbiter must grab the sample container.

illustration of mars sample return mission shows mini rocket releasing small container into mars orbit
An illustration shows a rocket releasing a sample container high above the Martian surface.

With the samples in tow, the orbiter would then journey back to Earth and ultimately drop a small vessel containing the samples. That vessel has to protect the Mars rocks as they plummet through the atmosphere, then deploy parachutes to land them safely on the ground.

The mission will be a collaboration with the European Space Agency (ESA), which is responsible for developing the orbiter and fetch rover.

“It’s really the most extraordinary, mind-bendingly complicated, and will-be-history-making exploration campaign,” David Parker, director of human and robotic exploration at the ESA, said in the February briefing.

illustration mars orbiting spacecraft capturing small sample container
An artist’s concept of the Mars Sample Return mission shows an orbiter capturing a sample container.

Last year, though, an independent review board determined that NASA’s timeline and budget for the Mars sample return are too optimistic, SpaceNews reported. The board proposed that NASA allot an extra two years – a 2028 launch and 2033 arrival on Earth – and bump the budget up about $1 billion. NASA had estimated a cost of $2.9 to $3.3 billion, according to SpaceNews, but the review board thought $3.8 to $4.4 billion would be more realistic.

None of those funds have been approved yet, since the mission is still in its proposal phase, and since Congress must approve a new budget for NASA each year.

NASA has already invested heavily in the sample-return project

Perseverance Rover
NASA’s Perseverance rover descends to touch down on Mars in this still image from a video camera, February 18, 2021.

It took a lot of time, labor, and money to get Perseverance to Jezero Crater.

After NASA built and launched the rover, it spent seven months traveling to Mars. Then the robot spent another six months getting set up and watching its helicopter sibling fly.

When it was finally ready to start collecting samples last month, Perseverance tried to drill a rock core, but it crumbled to dust. So it drove to another location over a few weeks, waited for scientists to choose a rock, then drilled a new sample. It sealed the tube containing that core on Monday.

perseverance rover robotic arm holds up golden tube for coring samples against mars plains background
Perseverance used its sample-collection arm to try coring a Mars rock on August 6, 2021.

Perseverance is carrying 42 more tubes. NASA expects to fill many of them over the next year and a half as the rover explores the crater’s ancient river delta. Then, if the robot is still in working order, it might venture up the crater rim and beyond, filling more tubes along the way.

Once Perseverance is spent, it will cache a container full of sample tubes in one of several safe landing spots NASA has identified.

Then those samples will lie in wait until NASA is ready to retrieve them.

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A Texas firm that builds 3D-printed homes is helping to create NASA’s fake Martian habitat, where people will spend a year. Take a look.

ICON
A conceptual rendering of Mars Dune Alpha.

  • NASA recently announced it’s seeking volunteers to spend a year living on a fake Martian surface.
  • The habitat’s 3D-printed structure is being built by Icon, a Texan construction-tech firm.
  • Icon worked with architects BIG, who conceived the habitat to be a comfortable yet supportive space.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.
NASA is looking for volunteers to spend 12 months pretending they live on Mars.

NASA/JPL
An artist’s rendering of astronauts and human habitats on Mars.

The US agency will select four volunteers, who will be paid to take part in the simulated Martian exploration mission.

 

The structure, known as Mars Dune Alpha, is a collaboration between Icon and architect firm Bjarke Ingels Group.

ICON
Mars Dune Alpha is taking shape.

Icon is a company that seamlessly constructs buildings onsite without having to piece together individual units. 

The company’s 3D printer, known as the Vulcan, will churn out layers of cement to simulate a realistic Mars. The habitat intends to inform and support crew health and performance for future missions.

3D-printed homes are becoming increasingly popular. They are quick to build, and in some cases, it takes just a few hours to print a home.

In 2019, Icon partnered with New Story, a housing nonprofit based in San Francisco to produce a 350-square-foot tiny home that took just 48 hours to build.

 

When fully constructed, Mars Dune Alpha will include a customizable room for each crew member.

ICON
Workers on site.

“We wanted to develop the most faithful analog possible to aid in humanity’s dream to expand into the stars,” said Jason Ballard, co-founder and CEO of Icon.

Mars Dune Alpha will be a 1,700 square-foot structure, located at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

ICON
Illustration of NASA’s Johnson Space Center.

Johnson Space Center is described as a hub of human spaceflight activity. Results from ground-based analog missions that take place here help NASA prepare for the real-life challenges of space exploration.

The layout of the Martian surface will be organized in a gradient of privacy.

ICON
A floor plan of Mars Dune Alpha.

Four private crew quarters will be located at one end of the structure, while a treatment room and robot station will be based at the other. A recreation area and kitchen will sit in the middle.

Lavacrete is being used in the construction. The material is a cement-based mix typically comprising red pulverized lava rock, cement, and water.

ICON
A 3D-printed section.

Dedicated workstations, medical stations, and food-growing stations will be located within the habitat. 

Mars Dune Alpha will have varying ceiling heights vertically segmented by an arching shell structure.

ICON
Icon’s next-gen Vulcan robotic printer. It is capable of printing homes and structures up to 3,000 square feet.

This is designed to accentuate the unique experience of each area and avoid spatial monotony and crew-member fatigue.

There will be a mix of fixed and movable furniture.

ICON
A conceptual rendering of Mars Dune Alpha.

This will allow crew members to reorganize the habitat according to their daily needs. 

The habitat will also include customizable lighting, temperature, and sound control.

ICON
A visualization of Mars.

These features are intended to help regulate the daily routine, circadian rhythm, and overall wellbeing of the crew members. 

 

“This is the highest-fidelity simulated habitat ever constructed by humans,” said Jason Ballard, co-founder and CEO of Icon.

ICON
A close-up of the 3D-printed walls.

The creation of the Martian habitat has shown that construction-scale 3D printing is an essential part of humanity’s toolkit on Earth, as well as to go to the moon and Mars, Ballard added.

 

 

Applicants for the Martian mission have to be aged between 30-55 and in good physical health.

nasa mars mission martian astronauts illustration
An illustration of NASA astronauts on Mars.

They must not be prone to motion sickness. Candidates must also be willing to eat the spaceflight-like diet provided during the analog mission

 

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NASA can’t find the Mars rock sample that the Perseverance rover drilled – it mysteriously disappeared

perseverance rover robotic arm holds up golden tube for coring samples against mars plains background
Perseverance used its sample-collection arm to try coring a Mars rock on August 6, 2021.

NASA has spent nine years and about $2 billion in its quest to drill and store samples of Martian rocks. The Perseverance rover was poised to finally make that happen for the first time on Friday.

The rover picked a rock in an ancient Mars lake bed that could have once held alien life, and attempted to drill. But then something strange happened: The sample seems to have vanished without a trace.

There’s a finger-sized hole in the rock where the sample should have come out, but there’s nothing in the rover’s sample-collection tube. And the rock core isn’t laying around anywhere near the hole. It’s just not there.

“While this is not the ‘hole-in-one’ we hoped for, there is always risk with breaking new ground,” NASA associate administrator Thomas Zurbuchen said in a press release. “I’m confident we have the right team working this, and we will persevere toward a solution to ensure future success.”

empty hole in rock black and white photo
The hole Perseverance drilled into a Mars rock while trying to take its first sample, photographed August 7, 2021.

To figure out what happened, NASA is instructing Perseverance to take close-up pictures of the bore hole it made. Mission controllers will then try to make plans for another sampling attempt.

“The initial thinking is that the empty tube is more likely a result of the rock target not reacting the way we expected during coring, and less likely a hardware issue with the Sampling and Caching System,” Jennifer Trosper, project manager for Perseverance, said in a statement. “Over the next few days, the team will be spending more time analyzing the data we have, and also acquiring some additional diagnostic data to support understanding the root cause for the empty tube.”

Perseverance’s main goal on Mars is to explore a region called Jezero Crater and gather rock samples; the tube that came up empty is one of 43 that the rover is carrying for this purpose. NASA’s long-term plan is to send another mission to Mars in about a decade to collect the samples Perseverance collects and bring them back to Earth. Then future scientists can investigate whether microbial life may have lived in the lake that once filled the basin.

In other words, a significant amount of planning and money is riding on Perseverance’s ability to drill these samples successfully.

Mars is keeping NASA on its toes

perseverance rover shadow looking down on hole in martian rock
Perseverance looks down at the hole it drilled for its first sample collection, August 6, 2021.

In its attempt to take its first sample, Perseverance first used an abrasion tool to clear dust and surface coatings from the rock. Then the rover extended its 7-foot-long arm, which has a sample-collection tool on the end. This tool uses a percussive drill to push a hollow coring bit into the rock.

The entire process is autonomous. Mission controllers simply send a “go” command to Perseverance.

The data the rover has beamed back to Earth from its attempt so far indicates that it carried out the necessary steps exactly as planned. Still, for some reason, the tube is empty.

view looking straight down a gold tube
The empty inside of Perseverance’s first sample-collection tube, August 6, 2021.

The rock Perseverance was trying to sample is typical of the region it’s been driving through. Jezero Crater’s floor is covered in what NASA is calling “paver stones.” These porous rocks could be sedimentary (meaning made by river and lake activity) or volcanic. Taking a sample would help scientists determine which type of rocks line the crater floor, thereby enhancing their understanding of the area’s history.

Other Mars missions have encountered unexpected difficulty from rock and soil, too. NASA recently had to abandon its InSight lander’s “mole,” a probing tool that was supposed to burrow into the Martian crust and measure its temperature. The mole found itself bouncing in place on a foundation of firm soil called “duracrust.”

“I have been on every Mars rover mission since the beginning, and this planet is always teaching us what we don’t know about it,” Trosper said. “One thing I’ve found is, it’s not unusual to have complications during complex, first-time activities.”

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NASA wants paid volunteers to spend a year living in a 3D-printed Martian habitat in Texas, where they will carry out spacewalks and research using VR tech

NASA/JPL
An artist’s rendering of astronauts and human habitats on Mars.

NASA is looking for applicants to spend a whole year pretending they live on Mars.

The 1,700 square-foot Martian surface is located inside the Johnson Space Center, in Houston, Texas.

These types of simulations are called analog missions. Insider’s Alyssa Pagano reported on the challenges of an eight-month analog mission in 2018.

For the newly announced mission, applications opened on Friday for four people to live on Mars Dune Alpha, a 3D-printed habitat. The US agency is planning three such experiments, with the first one due to begin next fall.’

The paid volunteers will take part in a simulated Martian exploration mission, complete with “spacewalks.” They will only have limited contact with their families and friends back home, and will have to learn to cope with restricted resources and equipment failures.

The news comes as the space agency prepares to eventually transport astronauts to the Red Planet as part of NASA’s Artemis program. That mission aims to set up a station on the moon and eventually send humans to Mars.

Lead scientist Grace Douglas said in a press release: “The analog is critical for testing solutions to meet the complex needs of living on the Martian surface.”

She added: “Simulations on Earth will help us understand and counter the physical and mental challenges astronauts will face before they go.”

Applicants will need to hold a master’s degree in engineering, maths, or computer science and have at least two years of pilot experience.

The agency also specifies that only US citizens or permanent residents qualify for the experiment. They have to be aged between 30-35 and in good physical health and must not be prone to motion sickness.

Sky News reported that Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield said the mission would mean “incredible freedom” in a “year away from the demands of your normal life.”

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NASA’s InSight Mars lander just gave scientists an unprecedented look at the guts of the red planet. Here’s how they compare to Earth’s.

InSight mars lander
An artist’s illustration of the InSight lander on Mars.

For the first time, we know what the interior of another planet similar to ours looks like.

In a trio of studies published Thursday in the journal Science, an international team of more than 40 scientists revealed how the Mars’s core, mantle, and crust contrast with Earth’s.

By analyzing seismic data collected by NASA’s InSight lander on the red planet, the researchers estimated of the size of Mars’s core, the thickness of its crust, and the composition of its mantle (the layer in between).

“We only have this kind of information for the Earth and moon,” Brigitte Knapmeyer-Endrun, a planetary seismologist at the University of Cologne and co-author of the new research, told Insider. “But the moon we can’t compare to Earth very well because it’s so much smaller.”

Mars, however, is our tinier, terrestrial twin. The new studies suggest its core is less dense than Earth’s but scaled to size.

Beaming seismic waves through Mars’s heart

insight lander seismometer mars
The InSight lander’s seismometer, as photographed by the lander’s camera on September 23, 2020.

InSight, NASA’s $828 million robotic science station, landed on Mars in November 2018. Since then, the lander has used its seismometers – which detect and record earthquakes – to listen for similar quakes on Mars.

Seismic waves from 12 of these marsquakes, which travel right through the middle of the planet and bounce off the layers inside, helped Knapmeyer’s group to map the boundaries of the crust and core.

“Imagine you have a closed box and you want to find out what’s inside,” Knapmeyer said. “This method is like taking that box and putting it into an X-ray.”

Mars has a fatter core than scientists thought

mars core mantle crust illustration
An artist’s illustration of Mars’s interior.

InSight’s findings suggest Mars has a large liquid core that starts almost halfway to the planet’s center, nearly 1,000 miles beneath the surface.

Its 1,143-mile radius was “larger than expected,” Amir Khan, a seismologist from ETH Zurich in Switzerland and a study co-author, told Insider.

The boundary of Earth’s liquid outer core – which encircles a solid metal inner core – starts deeper than Mars’s does, at 1,800 feet.

That said, Earth is nearly twice as wide as Mars is, and its core is about twice as wide too.

Unlike Earth’s core which is dominated by nickel and iron, Mars’s less dense core contains lighter elements like hydrogen and oxygen.

The red planet appears to lack an inner core, according to Simon Stähler, another study co-author and Khan’s colleague at ETH.

“We don’t know, we’ll be looking for this,” Stähler told Insider, adding, “temperatures are likely too high for an inner core to form.”

A more engorged core also means Mars’s mantle is relatively thinner compared to Earth. It also lacks a dense layer of mineral called bridgemanite that keeps Earth’s mantle stable under high pressure, which could explain the core’s unexpected size.

“Mineralogically speaking the mantle of Mars is a ‘simpler’ version of that of Earth,” Khan said.

Mars had, and lost, its protective magnetic field

magnetic field
A visualization of the Earth’s magnetic field.

Earth’s core plays a key role in protecting the planet from dangerous solar wind and radiation. Swirling liquid iron in the outer core generates a magnetic field that stretches all the way from there to the space surrounding our planet.

illustration of earth's core/mantle layers
An artist’s conception of the different layer’s of our planet, including the crust, mantle, and inner and outer cores.

That swirl happens, in part, because of a process in which hotter, lighter material from the outer core rises into the mantle above. There, it swaps places with cooler, denser mantle material, which sinks into the core below. This is known as convection.

While Mars has a liquid core, it lacks that swirling engine, known as a dynamo.

Bits of magnetized Martian crust suggest the planet did have a magnetic field once, between 4 billion and 4.5 billion years ago. The absence of the bridgemanite layer in Mars’s mantle could explain why its dynamo shut off about 300,000 years after the planet formed. Without that layer, Mars’s interior leached heat much faster, crippling the convection happening there.

Plus, “Mars is smaller and therefore cools faster than Earth,” Stähler said. “Different planet – different story.”

The red planet’s crust is as thick as Earth’s

insight mars lander nasa
This illustration shows NASA’s InSight spacecraft with its instruments deployed on the Martian surface.

The two planets’ crusts are similarly thick, according to Knapmeyer, though Mars’s crust has two or three layers.

The average thickness of the Martian crust is between 14 and 44 miles. Earth’s crustal thickness varies wildly – under the oceans, it can be as narrow as 3 miles – yet beneath the continents, it’s between 18 and 44 miles thick.

But Mars crust is really old and static compared to Earth’s, she said. Our planet’s shell is broken up into tectonic plates that surf on top of the mantle. Thanks to convection, these plates sometimes collide or sink under one another, meaning new bits of crust emerged all the time.

Mars lacks those plate tectonics, so there’s been no new crust generated since the planet’s crust formed some 4.5 billion years ago.

The planet was once “probably complete molten” and that hot liquid mass then differentiated into a crust, mantle, and core, Khan said.

The absence of plate tectonics is linked, in part, to sluggish convection in the mantle, according to Stähler. Lack of water plays a role too.

“Water lubricates the plate motion on Earth,” Stähler said. “On Mars, the water was probably lost very early, once there was no dynamo anymore and the atmosphere was blown away by solar wind.”

InSight’s next target? The moon

the moon surface
The moon as viewed by NASA’s Mariner 10 probe in 1973.

Scientists had previously used observation of Mars’s mass, diameter, and rotation from space to predict what its internal layers might look like.

Stähler was pleased InSight’s findings matched earlier predictions.

“We could confirm very rough estimates made from orbit. So now we know how much we can trust estimates of Venus’s or Mercury’s inner structure,” he said.

InSight’s mission on the red planet is expected to last until the end of 2022, but the lander’s scientific explorations won’t end next year. InSight will head to the moon as part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services program in 2024, Stähler said.

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NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover will fire a laser from its 7-foot robotic arm to cut its first sample of Martian rock

NASA's Mars Perseverance rover on the Martian surface.
NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover will start collecting its first rock sample in the next two weeks.

  • NASA’s Perseverance rover will collect its first Mars rock sample within two weeks, the agency said.
  • The rover’s 7-foot robotic arm will cut out a chalk-sized rock sample with a laser.
  • The mission will help NASA search for signs of ancient life on Mars, the agency said.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

NASA on Wednesday said that its Perseverance rover was preparing to collect its first sample of Martian rock to help scientists search for signs of ancient life.

Since the Mars rover landed on the red planet in February, it has explored the Martian surface, photographed its surroundings, and helped with the helicopter Ingenuity’s test flights.

In June, Perseverance began its first scientific mission, setting off on a three-mile road trip to reach the Jezero Crater. Now it’s there, the rover will pick up its first ever Mars rock sample with its 7-foot robotic arm, NASA said in a statement.

Instruments on the end of Perseverance’s robotic arm will scan the Martian surface where it plans to extract the rock, NASA said. The arm will scrape off the top layers of rock and dust to expose an unweathered surface, the space agency added.

One of the instruments will fire a laser onto the surface to cut out a piece of the rock, according to NASA. The rover will stop for a Martian day to recharge its batteries for the next day, NASA said.

Perseverance will then lift out a chalk-sized rock sample and put it in a sealed tube, NASA said. A spacecraft will later pick up the tube and bring it back to Earth for scientific observation, the agency said.

The rock collection mission, which will begin within the next two weeks, will take Perseverance 11 days to complete, NASA said.

“While the rocks located in this geologic unit are not great time capsules for organics, we believe they have been around since the formation of Jezero Crater and incredibly valuable to fill gaps in our geologic understanding of this region,” Perseverance project scientist Ken Farley said in the statement.

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NASA’s Mars helicopter has now flown successfully 8 times, beaming back photos that look like a sci-fi film

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The Ingenuity helicopter on Mars, sitting where the Perseverance rover dropped it, April 5, 2021.

On Monday, NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter completed its eighth flight on Mars.

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The Perseverance rover captured the Ingenuity helicopter before (left) and after (right) spinning its rotor blades.

The 4-pound helicopter spun its two pairs of blades to lift itself more than 30 feet above the ochre Martian dust. At a speed of 9 mph, it zipped to a new landing spot 525 feet away.

The tissue-box-sized space drone has come a long way since the Perseverance rover dropped it onto the Martian surface in April.

NASA Perseverance
The Perseverance rover took a selfie with Ingenuity before its first flight in April.

The pair of robots landed in Mars’ Jezero Crater on February 18.

Ingenuity was meant to conduct up to five test flights in order to prove that helicopters could fly over and explore Mars. The demo chopper has far exceeded engineers’ expectations.

Ingenuity made history on April 19 when it took flight for the first time. It hovered 10 feet above the Martian surface for about 30 seconds.

Ingenuity helicopter mars first flight Taking Off and Landing
Mastcam-Z, an imager aboard the Perseverance rover, captured Ingenuity taking off and landing for its first flight on April 19, 2021.

It was the first powered, controlled flight ever conducted on another planet.

A camera on the Perseverance rover captured the flight in exquisite color.

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The Perseverance rover captured Ingenuity’s first flight on Mars, April 19, 2021.

Perseverance moved to a nearby overlook to photograph and film the event.

Ingenuity snapped its own photos, too, using a color camera on the bottom of the helicopter.

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Ingenuity photographed its own shadow on April 9, 2021.

The camera is mounted on Ingenuity’s fuselage, and it points about 22 degrees below the horizon. That allows the lens to capture some of the Martian landscape in the distance as Ingenuity flies.

A black-and-white navigation camera also captures images as the chopper flies.

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Ingenuity photographed its own shadow just above the Martian surface – along with some tracks from the Perseverance rover – during its third flight, April 25, 2021.

That camera points straight down, allowing the helicopter to map where it is above the Martian surface.

Ingenuity’s color camera captured mid-flight photos of Perseverance’s tracks in the dust below.

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Ingenuity photographed Perseverance’s tracks, and its own shadow, during its second flight, April 22, 2021.

The photo above is the first color image taken from an aerial vehicle flying on Mars.

The camera even spotted Perseverance during Ingenuity’s third flight.

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NASA’s Perseverance rover is visible in the upper-left corner of this image from Ingenuity’s third flight on Mars, April 25, 2021.

During that flight, Ingenuity zipped about 160 feet down its flight zone, then returned, at 4.5 mph.

Perseverance watched Ingenuity’s first five flights, then drove away to start on its own science mission: searching for signs of ancient alien life.

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A zoomed-in view of Perseverance from the photo Ingenuity captured during its third flight.

Perseverance is now exploring the deposits left behind by a lake that once filled Jezero Crater. Scientists think that this lake may have hosted microbial life 3.5 billion years ago. Sediment falling to the lake bottom may have trapped and fossilized some of those microbes — if they existed.

Perseverance aims to collect dozens of soil samples from the lake bed, the nearby river delta, and the shorelines. It will stash those samples for a future mission to carry back to Earth.

Before moving on, Perseverance captured video footage of Ingenuity’s flights. Its microphone even picked up the sound of the helicopter’s spinning blades.

To get the helicopter off the ground in Mars’ thin atmosphere, Ingenuity’s rotors have to spin at 2,500 revolutions per minute. That’s five times as fast as the blades of a helicopter on Earth.

Meanwhile, Ingenuity’s navigation camera snapped photos throughout each flight, which combine to offer stop-motion-style footage of its shadow traveling over Martian ground.

Ingenuity helicopter flight shadow moving over mars
NASA’s Ingenuity Helicopter took these images on its fourth Mars flight, on April 30, 2021, using its black-and-white navigation camera.

“Goosebumps — it looks just the way we had tested,” MiMi Aung, the Ingenuity project manager, said as she presented video of Ingenuity’s first flight at a press conference in April. “Absolutely beautiful flight — I don’t think I can ever stop watching it over and over again.”

Ingenuity carried out its first three flights so flawlessly that NASA gave it a new, extended mission.

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NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter mid-air on April 22, 2021.

For as long as it survives, the Ingenuity team decided, the helicopter will keep flying to new airfields. That way, it can test operations that NASA might want to conduct with future space helicopters. That includes scouting and mapping, observing interesting features of Mars from the air, and exploring rough terrain that rovers can’t access.

Over eight flights, the helicopter has pushed itself further, faster, and higher. It has landed safely in uncharted territory three times.

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Ingenuity’s color camera captured the ground below in sharp detail during a flight on May 7, 2021.

NASA engineers initially did not think they could fly Ingenuity higher than 16 feet, but the helicopter has reached heights of about 33 feet. It’s traveled as far as 873 feet in a single flight and moved as fast as 9 mph.

It’s hopped to four new airfields — three of which were unsurveyed.

Ingenuity even survived a mid-air error. During its sixth flight, a glitch made the helicopter tilt wildly back and forth.

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Ingenuity took this image of Mars from 33 feet in the air during its sixth flight, May 22, 2021.

About 54 seconds into the flight, a small glitch occured as the navigation camera sent images to the helicopter’s computer. The chopper lost just one image, but that meant that each following photo was delivered with the wrong timestamp.

The error made Ingenuity roll and pitch, leaning more than 20 degrees from one side to the other. But it still managed to land safely.

Ingenuity helicopter tilt footage during sixth flight
This sequence of images – taken on May 22, 2021 by Ingenuity’s navigation camera – depicts the last 29 seconds of the rotorcraft’s sixth flight, when it began tilting back and forth.

“While we did not intentionally plan such a stressful flight, NASA now has flight data probing the outer reaches of the helicopter’s performance envelope,” Håvard Grip, Ingenuity’s chief pilot, wrote in a blog update on the incident.

NASA expected Ingenuity to crash long ago, but it still has more flights ahead.

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NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter, photographed on Mars by the Perseverance rover’s rear Hazard Camera on April 4, 2021.

Perseverance scientist Ken Farley told a NASA group on Monday that he expects Ingenuity’s new mission to continue for a few more months, according to SpaceNews reporter Jeff Foust.

That would keep up the current rate of about two flights per month. In the future, more advanced helicopters may even work alongside astronauts on Mars.

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Elon Musk says he’s selling his last remaining house, a ‘special place’ in California that he wants a large family to buy

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Tesla CEO Elon Musk says he’s selling his final house.

  • Elon Musk tweeted that he planned to sell his last remaining house, located in California’s Bay Area.
  • Musk said that he has already sold all his other houses to fund a Mars colony.
  • Musk called the property a “special place” and said he wanted to sell it to a large family.
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Tech billionaire Elon Musk said Monday that he planned to sell his “last remaining house.”

Musk called the property, in California’s Bay Area, a “special place” and said he wanted to sell it to a large family.

Musk has repeatedly said he plans to sell most of his possessions, including all his houses, to fund a colony on Mars. He has said he wants to send 1 million people to Mars by 2050.

It follows a ProPublica report last week that said Musk, the CEO of both Tesla and SpaceX, paid $455 million in taxes from 2014 to 2018. His wealth grew $14 billion over the same period.

Read more: Elon Musk is Tesla’s most visible leader, but not its only one. Meet 12 other people who control its future.

In response to the ProPublica report, Musk tweeted on Wednesday that he would continue to pay income taxes in California even after relocating to Texas, and said that he only owned one property – a house in California’s Bay Area that he rented out for “events.”

He now plans to sell this house, according to a tweet he posted in the early hours of Monday morning.

Musk said last week that he had sold all his other houses, and added that he rented his main property in Boca Chica, Texas, from his aerospace company SpaceX.

“It’s going to take a lot of resources to build a city on Mars,” Musk told Mathias Döpfner, the CEO of Insider’s parent company, Axel Springer, in a December interview. “I want to be able to contribute as much as possible to the city on Mars. That means just a lot of capital.”

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