Mars: Nasa lands InSight robot to study planet’s interior


0

US space agency Nasa has landed a new robot on Mars after a dramatic seven-minute plunge to the surface of the Red Planet.

The InSight probe aims to study the deep interior of Mars, and make it the only planet – apart from Earth – that has been examined in this way.

The touchdown confirmation came through shortly after 19:50 GMT.

It ended an anxious few minutes in which the robot radioed home updates on its descent.

Nasa’s mission control in California erupted into cheers when it became clear InSight was safe on the ground.

The probe put down on a vast, flat plain known as Elysium Planitia, close to the Red Planet’s equator. The agency had dubbed it the “biggest parking lot on Mars”.

The first picture from the probe came back very quickly after touchdown. It showed a smudged fisheye view of Elysium Planitia. The image was acquired with the translucent lens cap still in place on the camera. The dust kicked up in the landing obscured much of the view.

Much better pictures will be taken in the coming days.

What happened in the landing?

Like all previous landing attempts at Mars, Insight’s race to the surface – the first attempt since 2012 – was a tense affair.

Stage by stage and metre by metre, the robot reported back its progress.

It had entered the atmosphere faster than a high-velocity bullet, using the combination of a heatshield, parachute and rockets to bring itself to a gentle stop.

Key to InSight’s continued survival on the harsh surface of Mars is the deployment of its solar panels, which were stowed for the descent.

The robot absolutely has to start generating power to operate its systems and to warm equipment in the sub-zero temperatures that persist on the Red Planet.

Only when these immediate concerns are taken care of can Nasa begin to think about InSight’s scientific mission.

What is different about this mission?

This will be the first probe to dedicate its investigations to understanding Mars’ interior.

Scientists want to know how the world is constructed – from its core to its crust. InSight has three principal experiments to achieve this goal.

InSight: Mission ot the heart of Mars

The first is a package of Franco-British seismometers that will be lifted on to the surface to listen for “Marsquakes”. These vibrations will reveal where the rock layers are and what they are made of.

A German “mole” will burrow up to 5m into the ground to take the planet’s temperature. This will give a sense of how active Mars still is.

And the third experiment will use radio transmissions to very precisely determine how the planet is wobbling on its axis. Deputy project scientist Suzanne Smrekar uses this analogy: “If you take a raw egg and a cooked egg and you spin them, they wobble differently because of the distribution of liquid in the interior. And today we really don’t know if the core of Mars is liquid or solid, and how big that core is. InSight will give us this information.”

Why do we need to know this?

Scientists understand very well how Earth’s interior is structured, and they have some good models to describe the initiation of this architecture at the Solar System’s birth more than 4.5 billion years ago. But Earth is one data point and Mars will give researchers a different perspective on how a rocky planet can be assembled and evolve through time.

InSight chief scientist Bruce Banerdt said: “The small details in how planets evolve are what we think make the difference between a place like Earth where you can go on vacation and get a tan, and a place like Venus where you’ll burn in seconds or a place like Mars where you’ll freeze to death.”

Media playback is unsupported on your device

Jonathan.Amos-INTERNET@bbc.co.uk and follow me on Twitter: @BBCAmos


Like it? Share with your friends!

0

What's Your Reaction?

hate hate
0
hate
confused confused
0
confused
fail fail
0
fail
fun fun
0
fun
geeky geeky
0
geeky
love love
0
love
lol lol
0
lol
omg omg
0
omg
win win
0
win
BBC

Choose A Format
Story
Formatted Text with Embeds and Visuals
Video
Youtube, Vimeo or Vine Embeds
List
The Classic Internet Listicles
Open List
Submit your own item and vote up for the best submission
Countdown
The Classic Internet Countdowns
Poll
Voting to make decisions or determine opinions
Ranked List
Upvote or downvote to decide the best list item
Personality quiz
Series of questions that intends to reveal something about the personality
Trivia quiz
Series of questions with right and wrong answers that intends to check knowledge
Meme
Upload your own images to make custom memes
Audio
Soundcloud or Mixcloud Embeds
Image
Photo or GIF
Gif
GIF format