NASA's InSight lander captures intimate sights and sounds of Mars

December 12, 2018, 10:09 a.m.
NASA's InSight lander image of Mars using Instrument Deployment Camera
Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Welcome to Mars, InSight.

The Mars lander InSight survived its "7 minutes of terror" and successfully touched down on the red planet on Nov. 26. After that drama, the lander got itself up and running, snapping the picture above with its Instrument Deployment Camera (IDC).

The image was shared on NASA's social media channels with a caption from InSight's perspective. "There's a quiet beauty here," someone wrote for the lander. "Looking forward to exploring my new home."

The first photo of Mars taken by the InSight lander wasn't exactly crystal clear. The first photo of Mars taken by the InSight lander wasn't exactly crystal clear. (Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

This wasn't the first image taken by InSight, however; it was just the prettier of the two. Using the Instrument Context Camera, the lander also took a grainy photo of the surface (above), explaining that it hadn't taken the lens cover off but was simply too excited to wait. "My first picture on Mars! My lens cover isn’t off yet," the Facebook caption read, "but I just had to show you a first look at my new home."

'The InSight lander acts like a giant ear'

Following these images, InSight captured its first audio recording on Dec. 1. Two sensors on the lander recorded a low rumble sound similar to thunder that was caused by vibrations in wind blowing 10-15 mph. The air pressure sensor recorded the air vibrations directly, and the seismometer recorded the lander's vibrations when the wind moved across its solar panels.

"The InSight lander acts like a giant ear," said Tom Pike, InSight science team member and sensor designer at Imperial College London. "The solar panels on the lander's sides respond to pressure fluctuations of the wind. It's like InSight is cupping its ears and hearing the Mars wind beating on it. When we looked at the direction of the lander vibrations coming from the solar panels, it matches the expected wind direction at our landing site."

The seismometer will analyze vibrations from Mars' deep interior and will hopefully determine if tremors on the red planet are similar to earthquakes.

"Capturing this audio was an unplanned treat," said Bruce Banerdt, InSight principal investigator at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "But one of the things our mission is dedicated to is measuring motion on Mars, and naturally that includes motion caused by sound waves."

InSight shows off for the camera

NASA InSight first selfie The selfie is made up of 11 images taken by its Instrument Deployment Camera, located on the elbow of its robotic arm. (Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Later that same day, InSight also took its first selfie. The image shows the lander's dock and solar panels plus its weather sensor booms, science instruments and UHF antenna on top of the lander.

InSight — which stands for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport — will stay put, unlike the rovers. It will place a seismometer and heat probe on Mars in an effort to gain a better understanding of the planet's interior, including its core. This, it's hoped, will offer some details about how the planets of the inner solar system — Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars — formed.

InSight's mission is expected to last at least two years.

Editor's note: This article has been updated since it was originally published in November 2018.

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