NASA’s InSight lander carefully placed its seismometer, called the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS), on the surface of Mars at the end of last year and since then it has been making adjustments to ensure that it can get a clean signal of marsquakes occurring deep within the planet. This included steps like adjusting the cable between the lander and the seismometer to stop it from flapping around in the wind and calibrating the seismometer’s internal sensors so it is level and balanced.
Now the lander has taken the next step on its journey to collect data from inside Mars: it has lowered a shield over the seismometer to protect it from the harsh Martian environment. The Wind and Thermal Shield is important to protect the sensitive instrument from gusts of wind which could shake it and add noise to the data it collects. The dome is designed in an aerodynamic manner so that when the wind passes over it, it presses the dome down further into the ground, meaning that it won’t fly away even in stormy Martian weather.
Even more of a concern that the wind is the temperature, which is highly variable on Mars and can fluctuate by 170 degrees Fahrenheit (94 degrees Celsius) over the course of a day. “Temperature is one of our biggest bugaboos,” InSight Principal Investigator Bruce Banerdt of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said in a statement. “Think of the shield as putting a cozy over your food on a table. It keeps SEIS from warming up too much during the day or cooling off too much at night. In general, we want to keep the temperature as steady as possible.”
The next step is for InSight to deploy its heat probe, the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3). The probe should be placed on the surface of the planet some time next week. Once both instruments are in place and adjusted, the team can begin gathering data on Mars’ structure and composition.
Adorably enough, the InSight lander has a delightful first-person Twitter account like Curiosity’s famous Twitter. InSight is apparently very proud of its efforts to keep its precious seismometer safe:
I’ve done it — carefully placed this protective cover over my seismometer. Shielding it from wind and temperature changes will help it get its best measurements of any #marsquakes. Stay cozy in there, little guy! pic.twitter.com/6ZcqJPBqKj
— NASA InSight (@NASAInSight) February 3, 2019
Well done, InSight. We’re all rooting for you!