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InSight touches down

12-4-2018

George Kharchilava, Staff Writer

Just four days after Thanksgiving, the Martian population has increased by one. After a two year delay, NASA’s “Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport” (InSight) lander has successfully touched down on the Martian surface after a grueling 300 million mile (483 million kilometer) journey. InSight took off earlier this year on May 5th, 2018 and made its debut landing on November 26th, 2018. This was the first time there has been a successful landing on the Red Planet since the Curiosity Rover landed on August 2012.

The difference between InSight and Curiosity however is quite obvious, as InSight does not have any wheels. Yes that’s right, this is a stationary probe that will place instruments inside the Martian ground. In order to do this, scientists decided to place this probe on the plains of Elysium Planitia, a flat field where InSight can research in peace, without any distractions. On NASA’s website, they describe the location in full detail, “The landing site lies in the western portion of Elysium Planitia, centered at about 4.5 degrees north latitude and 135.9 degrees east longitude. This is just 373 miles (600 kilometers) from Curiosity’s landing site, Gale Crater.”

There are a variety of instruments aboard this lander, made from different parts of the world. However there are three primary instruments that make this lander very unique.

Alongside NASA, French scientists have developed the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure, or SEIS for short. This instrument’s main job is to study pulses inside of Mars created by marsquakes (Martian earthquakes), meteorite impacts, and surface vibrations. This is especially important in understanding the vital signs of our beloved neighbor. It will be placed on Mars by the InSight lander and then protected by a small dome that the lander will place over it. “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.” says Principle Investigator Philippe Lognonné of the Institute of Earth Physics of Paris, University Paris Diderot Paris, France.

Meanwhile, German scientists have conjured up the The Heat Flow and Physical Properties Probe, or HP3. The idea of this instrument is to take the temperature of the planet using a small mole that will penetrate itself into the surface. The reason of this is to determine how much heat is still being emitted from the core after its formation. “We know that Mars’ interior is not as warm as Earth’s, but we’ve never taken the planet’s temperature. HP3 will take Mars’ temperature, tell us how much heat is leaving the planet, and whether Earth and Mars formed from the same stuff. That’s key to learning not only about Mars, but about how all the rocky planets of the solar system formed and evolved.” says Principle Investigator Tilman Spohn of German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt, or DLR), Berlin.

Finally, we come back home in the United States, where scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California bring RISE, Rotation and Interior Structure Experiment, to life. The purpose of RISE is to track and measure Mars’ wobble as the Sun pulls on the Red Planet. According to NASA, this will help scientists figure out the size and composition of Mars’ core.

Along with France and Germany, eight other countries have partnered up with NASA to create a robot unlike any before. The forefront of understanding for our potential future home has just been broadened. Please stay tuned for updates on what InSight we may gain in the coming months.