With InSight on Mars, Scientists Feel Earthly Relief, Get to Work

The first image from NASA's In Sight was returned to Earth almost immediately

The first image from NASA's In Sight was returned to Earth almost immediately

Creating a 3D model of the surface will help engineers understand where to place instruments and hammer in the probe, called the Mars mole HP3 by those who built it.

InSight's pressure sensor will monitor atmospheric conditions and detect dust devils - whirling blasts of wind on the planet's surface - from much farther away than in previous missions. This in turn will be incorporated into humanity's more general knowledge of how rocky worlds form, from Earth and the Moon to exoplanets such as those in the Trappist-1 system. In fact, it will be two to three months before InSight's robotic arm even sets its instruments on the martian surface, according to NASA.

To confirm landing NASA tweeted the first image from the InSight on-board camera. They have a similar solar panel and general spacecraft design, though InSight is created to last more than four times as long as its predecessor. The momentous occasion - which was the eighth time in history humans have landed on the Red Planet - was captured by cameras at the Pasadena, California headquarters, as scientists and engineers erupted into cheers the moment the InSight made contact.

NASA went with its old, straightforward approach this time, using a parachute and braking engines to get InSight's speed from 12,300 mph (19,800 kph) when it pierced the Martian atmosphere, about 77 miles (114 kilometers) up, to 5 mph (8kph) at touchdown. No lander has dug deeper than several centimetres, and no seismometer has ever worked on Mars.

Once the dust settles this is what In Sight will look like when it starts performing science experiments
Once the dust settles this is what In Sight will look like when it starts performing science experiments

France's Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales (CNES) made the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (Seis) instrument, the key element for sensing quakes. And it's capable of hammering a probe into the surface. This will include taking planetary temperatures, investigating what the planet's various rock layers are composed of, and using radio transmissions to generate data on Mars' axis. Even launching the mission and operating the spacecraft while it was traveling to Mars required the cooperation of scientists in Australia, Spain and the United States.

The three-legged InSight settled on the western side of Elysium Planitia, the plain that NASA was aiming for. Still, this second largest volcanic region on Mars is an ideal place for InSight to land because of the science it is created to perform.

As well as a simulation of the craft opening up 7-foot-wide solar panels that will be crucial to providing the lander with 700 watts of electricity on a clear enough day. Mercury, closest to the sun, has a surface that's positively baked. Those spacecrafts generally go in a north-south orbit, so when an orbiter is going over InSight, it's also going over Curiosity on the same orbit.

Mars' well-preserved interior provides a snapshot of what Earth may have looked like following its formation 4.5 billion years ago, according to Banerdt.

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