Mars InSight Lander Captured an Odd Thing During Solar Eclipse

strange phenomenon

The Red Planet’s moons are nothing like Earth’s Moon. Phobos is the biggest of the two and much close to its planet. It also swings around Mars in line with the planet’s equator thrice every Martian day. 

The solar eclipses there are more frequent than here on Earth. Phobos moves in front of the Sun (it never entirely covers it) for an annular or partial eclipse somewhere on Mars most days. And because Phobos is passing so fast, it never transits for more than 30s. 

However, during that brief time, the Mars InSight lander has captured something odd happening. Here is what you need to know.

Mars InSight’s Data Examined

Researchers at ETC Zurich’s Institute of Geophysics are examining data from Mars InSight to determine if some of the effects of eclipses on our planet also happen on the Red Planet. 

InSight is equipped with wind and temperature sensors. So far, these instruments didn’t record any change in the atmosphere during Phobos transits. The solar cells are usually capable of registering the transits.

However, this time, both the magnetometer and the seismometer displayed off readings – the seismometer had an unexpected tilt. The odd thing with the magnetometer – utilized to track the magnetic field on Mars – was easy to decipher, while the other puzzled a bit researchers’ work.

Two components displayed a decrease very similar to the decline in the current from the solar array. The scientists deduced the lowered current was most likely the cause. They said that the seismometer reading it’s very unusual. 

The Reason

Besides the seismometer signal, an infrared radiometer recorded a slight drop in ground temperature during the most extended transit. It was followed by a moment of about one minute and a half while the surface warmed back up to its previous temperature.

The researchers believe that the cause is: “During an eclipse, the ground cools; it deforms unevenly, which tilts the instrument.” 

A series of tests with artificial heat sources proved that seismometers react almost immediately to heat variations in the seismic pillar. The information and results could be utilized to understand Mars and Phobos better. 

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