Credit By: NASA
The several missions on Mars have allowed us to continuously learn more about the other planets in our solar system, particularly that planet. However, even missions that have been retired can continue to contribute data for years after they have ended, as was the case with recent research that used data from the InSight lander.
The lander’s solar panels became too covered in dust to generate enough electricity to keep it working, which officially caused the mission to cease in December 2022. However, a recent review of the lander’s data has uncovered some unexpected facts about Mars, such as the fact that the planet is rotating more quickly every year.
This artist’s concept drawing of NASA’s InSight lander on Mars highlights the antennas on the spacecraft’s deck.
This artist’s concept drawing of NASA’s InSight lander on Mars highlights the antennas on the spacecraft’s deck. These antennas comprise an instrument known as the Rotation and Interior Structure Experiment, or RISE, along with a radio transponder in the lande
The researchers used the Rotation and Interior Structure Experiment (RISE), an instrument on NASA’s InSight that reflects radio waves from the Deep Space Network. The researchers were able to precisely determine how quickly the planet is rotating by observing how the frequency of this reflected signal varies by minute amounts.
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Sebastien Le Maistre of the Royal Observatory of Belgium, the project’s chief investigator, stated, “What we’re looking for are variations that are just a few tens of centimeters over a Martian year.” Before observing these variances, much data must accrue over a very long period.
They discovered that the planet is spinning faster each year, corresponding to a tiny fraction of a millisecond every year being taken out of a Martian day. To detect this slight variation, measurements across 900 Martian days must be done with extreme care.
According to InSight’s senior investigator Bruce Banerdt of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the newest measurement was obtained with great precision. “I’ve spent decades working to get a geophysical station like InSight onto Mars, and results like this make it all worthwhile,” the author said.
Scientists are still debating the potential causes of this modest effect. One hypothesis is that the ice caps at Mars’ poles may be melting or increasing, which would alter the planet’s mass distribution. Another discovery from the data is that the liquid in Mars’s core is sloshing around in a way that makes it possible to measure the core’s size with greater precision. The radius of the core is currently estimated to be between 1,112 and 1,150 miles.
Hopefully, for many years, researchers will continue using RISE data to discover more about Mars’ innards.
Le Maistre declared that the experiment was historic. “We have put a lot of time and effort into planning the investigation and looking forward to these findings. Despite this, we were nonetheless taken aback along the road, and RISE still has a lot of Mars-related revelations to make.