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NASA's InSight Probe Has Sent Back Its First Photos From Mars

27 November 2018
NASA's InSight Probe Has Sent Back Its First Photos From Mars

The landing triggered celebrations across the globe, prompting one complicated handshake between InSight team members that's captivating viewers. During its descent towards the martian surface, the probe first entered Mars' atmosphere 80 miles (129 km) above the surface. Part of this is due to the thin Martian atmosphere, which is only 1% of Earth's, so there's nothing to slow down something trying to land on the surface. All but one of the previous USA touchdowns were successful. NASA TV coverage was also shown on the giant screen in New York's Times Square, where crowds huddled under umbrellas in the rain. No lander has dug deeper than several inches, and no seismometer has ever worked on Mars. The lander also has a French-made seismometer for measuring quakes, if they exist on our smaller, geologically calmer neighbor.

And a radio transmitter will send back signals tracking Mars's subtle rotational wobble to reveal the size of the planet's core and possibly whether it remains molten. The thee-legged, one-armed InSight will operate from the same spot for the next two years. Its first job was to get a fast picture out.

The stationary probe is programmed to pause for 16 minutes for the dust to settle, literally, around its landing site, before disc-shaped solar panels are unfurled like wings to provide power to the spacecraft. How, though, could scientists know whether or not there are mission-scuttling rocks hidden just below Elysium Planitia's dirt? The instruments will have to be set up and fine-tuned.

NASA missions have established that billions of years ago the planet was warmer and wetter, more conducive conditions for life.

"This is what we really hoped and imagined in our mind's eye", he said.

InSight acquired this image of the surface of Mars. This was the area in front of the lander
InSight acquired this image of the surface of Mars. This was the area in front of the lander

This means marsquakes are more likely to be caused by other forms of tectonic activity, including volcanism and cracks forming in the planet's crust. Some hypotheses suggest that there may be reservoirs of water just below the Martian surface, and the value of the heat flow number could help us understand whether these reservoirs are in a life-giving liquid state or are a not-so-life-giving solid ice.

InSight's efforts have the potential to teach us valuable information about the formation of rocky planets in our solar system.

Unlike earthquakes, marsquakes are a outcome of a cooling and shrinking world, says Hoffman, and hopes are high that there will be many marsquakes for InSight to detect.

NASA officials say InSight's instruments should be up and running in about two or three months. NASA's Mars 2020 mission, for instance, will collect rocks that will eventually be brought back to Earth and analyzed for evidence of ancient life.