The Martian Soil Is More Alien Than Scientists Initially Thought

NASA's Martian "Mole" is moving once again.

The extremely complicated task of drilling the Martian surface has paid off, although not in the way expected. Scientists have revealed they’ve obtained the first results from drilling into the Martian soil, and they say the ground of the red planet is much more alien than they initially thought.

The heat drill on board the InSight landing module was tasked with making a hole into the Martian surface with a depth of up to 5 meters, using an instrument mostly known as “the mole“.

However, this was not possible because the “mole” got stuck at 30 centimeters deep, and could not move for months, shortly after drilling began in February 2019.

“We scratched our heads for quite some time trying to figure out what we could do,” InSight project manager Tom Hoffman of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said during a presentation at the 22nd. Mars Society Convention in Los Angeles.

This image, taken March 19, 2019 by a camera on NASA’s Mars InSight lander, shows the rover’s domed Wind and Thermal Shield,covering its seismometer. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.
This image, taken March 19, 2019, by a camera on NASA’s Mars InSight lander, shows the rover’s domed Wind and Thermal Shield, covering its seismometer. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

The InSight team then considered two possibilities to explain the situation: the first, that a large rock had blocked its path; and the second, that the small drill had lost friction with the ground of the red planet – without a good grip on the earth, the “mole” cannot move much.

With that in mind, last week the InSight team managed to make the drill move a few centimeters more using a “pinning” technique, that is, by pressing the lander’s soil scoop against InSight’s mole to create friction.

The result of this procedure showed that hypothesis number two was probably correct, giving some hope to the researchers that the planned drilling depth will be achieved.

But even if the drilling goal is not achieved, the drill will have taught the team something very interesting about Mars. For example, unlike the holes dug here on Earth, the one excavated by InSight’s drill “has no lip of dirt around its rim,” Hoffman said.

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“Where did the soil go?” he said. “Basically, it got pounded back into the ground, so it seems like it’s very cohesive, even though it’s very dusty.”

In other words, this strange combination of facts are indicative evidence that the soil on the red planet is far more alien than we’ve initially thought.

The properties of the Martian soil are very different from anything we have seen on Earth, which is already a very interesting result, the experts revealed.

The InSight mission is studying the interior of Mars like no mission before.

InSight will help scientists create a detailed 3D map of the red planet from the crust to the nucleus, something that will eventually reveal important details about how rocky planets in the universe form and evolve.

In addition to its drill, InSight carries other scientific instruments like SEIS– Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure. SEIS has already detected around 150 seismic events on Mars, three of which had a magnitude greater than 3 on the Richter scale.