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Tip Sheets

Weathering the elements, NASA’s InSight to measure seismic activity on Mars

NASA’s InSight lander, designed to measure seismic activity on Mars and study the planet’s internal structure, is scheduled to launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California on Saturday, May 5.


Don Banfield

Senior research associate

Don Banfield, a senior research associate specializing in planetary sciences at Cornell University will be at the launch on Saturday. He is a co-investigator and member of the science team for NASA’s InSight Mars lander. Banfield says winds and temperature changes on Mars can interfere with the seismic signals gathered by InSight, but that special wind and pressure sensors will ensure accurate measurements, while shedding light on weather phenomena on the red planet.

Banfield says:

“My work on the mission is associated with InSight’s auxiliary instruments, used to remove unwanted environmental signals from the seismic records. That is, winds and temperature and pressure changes. The winds directly shake the seismometer, and while we have a special shield over the seismometer to guard against wind buffeting and temperature changes, it can’t remove all of these effects. The lander will carry two wind sensors (built and contributed by Spain) that will alert us to when the winds are too high and the seismic signals are contaminated by wind buffeting.  

“It will also carry the most sensitive pressure sensor yet sent to Mars. When weather systems pass by the lander, the pressure changes — as it does on Earth. These pressure changes actually deflect the ground slightly, with more or less atmospheric weight on a specific place. This changing loading on the ground surface actually causes very small tilts to occur at the lander and change with time. We will measure the pressure very precisely and then try to remove those atmospheric pressure-induced tilts from the seismic signals.

“We also will be using the wind temperature and pressure sensor to study weather phenomena at Mars. In particular, we expect that our very sensitive pressure sensor will be able to detect dust devils much farther away than in previous missions. We will be able to take a census of the dust devils and better understand their behavior and what they can then teach us about the Mars atmosphere in general.”

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