Artist's concept of InSight lander with the seismometer labeled

Artist's Concept of InSight Lander on Mars: InSight is the first mission dedicated to investigating the deep interior of Mars. The findings will advance understanding of how all rocky planets, including Earth, formed and evolved.

Measuring the Pulse of Mars

InSight’s seismometer, SEIS, the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure, is a round, dome-shaped instrument that sits on the Martian surface and takes the "pulse" or seismic vibrations of Mars. Its measurements provide a glimpse into the planet’s internal activity. The seismometer waits patiently to sense the pulse, or seismic waves, from marsquakes, and thumps of meteorite impacts. A suite of wind, pressure, temperature, and magnetic field sensors helps fine-tune the seismometer's measurements. This helps it sense surface vibrations generated by weather systems such as dust storms, or by turbulence in the atmosphere due to phenomena such as dust devils, which can also generate seismic waves. SEIS measurements tell scientists about the nature of the material that first formed the rocky planets of the solar system.

Tech Specs

Main Job To measure the pulse of Mars by studying waves created by marsquakes, thumps of meteorite impacts, and even surface vibrations generated by activity in Mars' atmosphere and by weather phenomena such as dust storms.
Location Placed on the surface of Mars
Power Up to 8.5 watts
Volume About 0.8 gallons (3 liters)
Data Return 38 megabits per day
Testing for Instrument Deployment by InSight's Robotic Arm
Testing for Instrument Deployment by InSight's Arm
"We've been waiting for this moment for a long time. It's been 130 years since the first seismic record on Earth and almost 50 years since a seismometer was placed on the Moon during the Apollo program. What we learn from SEIS will shed light on how Mars formed and evolved."
- Philippe Lognonné, Principal Investigator

5 Things to Know

  • Circle with number 1
    First in 40 Years
    InSight delivered the first seismometer to Mars in 40 years. The last time seismometers traveled to the Red Planet was with the Viking landers.
  • Circle with number 2
    Like a Stethoscope
    Like a doctor's stethoscope listening to the patient's heartbeat, SEIS “listens” for marsquakes.
  • Circle with number 3
    Listening to Meteors
    Using the seismometer, scientists could detect meteor impacts over the course of InSight’s mission.
  • Circle with number 4
    SEIS can tune in to tremors smaller than a hydrogen atom!
  • Circle with number 5
    Sensing the Weather
    InSight's seismometer can sense weather phenomena such as dust devils that produce seismic waves.

How It Works

SEIS listens for seismic waves on the surface of Mars, shedding light on the interior structure of the Red Planet.

A number of physical phenomena can create seismic waves, including marsquakes, meteorites striking the surface, landslides, or even the pressure of the wind on the surface. Weather phenomena, such as dust devils, can also generate seismic waves.

Waves Change as they Travel

In the way that light changes speed and direction when it passes through water or glass, seismic waves change when they pass through the interior of a planet. How the waves change depends on the material that the interior is made of. SEIS tells scientists how the interior of Mars changes waves, helping them figure out which material changed it.

Waves Tell Stories

Waves from a large quake can travel long distances and pass through many different types of material inside a planet. All of those different materials alter the wave in their own way. To understand what the inside of a planet is really like, SEIS has the ability to listen to a host of different variations in seismic waves clearly. This helps it detect lots of detail about the structure of the layers that changed the waves.

Scientists believe that areas 620 to 1,250 miles (1,000 to 2,000 kilometers) from InSight’s landing site, like the area around Elysium Mons, have experienced volcanism and quakes 1 to 10 million years ago. That’s recent for a planet!