InSight Mars lander sends back selfie after fiery landing

27 November, 2018, 06:14 | Author: Bertha Harmon
  • An In Sight selfie with the Martian horizon in the background

In its descent towards the martian surface, the probe first entered Mars' atmosphere, 80 miles above the surface.

Scientists and engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, CA went nuts on Monday after their InSight lander made a successful touchdown on Mars.

A pair of mini satellites trailing InSight since their May liftoff provided practically real-time updates of the spacecraft's supersonic descent through the reddish skies.

In addition to the InSight telemetry, one of the cubesats, MarCO-B, returned an image of Mars taken shortly after the landing, as the spacecraft was passing 6,000 kilometers from the planet. Up to now, the success rate at the red planet has been only 40 percent, counting every attempted flyby, orbital flight and landing by the US, Russia and other countries since 1960. But InSight is expected to yield the first meaningful data on planetary seismic tremors beyond Earth.

NASA last landed on Mars in 2012 with the Curiosity rover. SEIS must sit on the planet's surface beneath a wind and thermal shield to ensure its seismic measurements come only from the planet.

"There's a quiet beauty here", the InSight mission team wrote on Twitter. The NASA team said they were glad to see the dust, as they were hoping for a soft landing site. "We're doing that largely with a seismometer detecting 'marsquakes'".

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"Mars, although it may have started off in a similar place, is now certainly very different". It is not presently tectonically active, and its volcanoes have been dormant for hundreds of millions of years.

Still, there are no life detectors aboard InSight. The InSight mission, which cost around $814 million, plans to study Mars' deep interior. And Tuesday night, the Mars Odyssey orbiter should confirm that the spacecraft's solar arrays have unfurled. The self-hammering mole will burrow 16 feet (5 metres) down to measure the planet's internal heat, while the seismometer listens for possible quakes. But it can only do so if there is no hard bedrock in its way.

It withstood temperatures up to 2,700F (1,500C) - hot enough to melt steel - before deploying its parachute and 12 retro-rockets to gently touch down in an area known as Elysium Planitia.

"An impact crater can act like a probe of the subsurface", Smrekar explains.

InSight's two-year science mission won't begin right away. As a rule, meteors will gouge a hole approximately a tenth as deep as the crater's diameter.

Mars once had flowing rivers and lakes, but the deltas and lakebeds are now dry. Measurement of the changes in signal as it passed through the planet's atmosphere just before and after being blocked by the planet itself could provide information about atmospheric conditions. These vibrations will reveal where the rock layers are and what they are made of.

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It will help explain how all rocky planets, including the Earth, evolved. "But some of those measurements don't agree with that; they indicate that Mars is composed of less chondritic material and its interior should be a lot colder than our models predict".

InSight had a six-minute window in which to decelerate from just under 13,000mph to 5mph - landing entirely based on autonomous and pre-programmed systems. Another important day in human history.

Squeee, first photo from InSight! The thee-legged, one-armed InSight will operate from the same spot for the next two years.

Together, the instruments will study geological processes, said Bruce Banerdt, InSight's principal investigator at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "That's phenomenal-it's as close as you can get to magic and still be science".

And if it's got a liquid core, it'll actually slosh around a little bit and wobble a little more.

Mars has an atmosphere thick enough to incinerate or deflect an incoming spacecraft.

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