On Monday 26 November, NASA’s InSight lander will touch down on the surface of Mars, aiming to go where no Mars lander has gone before.
Space enthusiasts – and especially NASA – are counting down the days and hours until the expected arrival of the InSight lander on the surface of Mars. In doing so, it will become the first Mars landing since the Curiosity rover successfully touched down in 2012.
InSight’s journey began in May of this year after it made history by becoming the first NASA Mars payload to be launched from the US west coast at Vandenberg Air Force Base. Standing for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport, the InSight mission will, as you can guess, be an exploration of the deep underground of Mars.
#Mars, I’m coming to you. I left Earth 200 days ago and I’m now just five days from my #MarsLanding. My team is making final preparations and I’m on course for touchdown. Read: https://t.co/ompiNO93OF pic.twitter.com/66h6Tz3Xst
— NASAInSight (@NASAInSight) November 21, 2018
This will include taking readings of the planet’s ‘vital signs’ including its seismic pulse, heat flow temperature and radio reflexes. Not since the NASA Viking missions has a Mars lander attempted to measure seismic activity. At that time, its readings were pretty inaccurate due to them being placed on top of the lander.
Using its small, dome-shaped SEIS instrument, InSight will be able to detect ‘marsquakes’ occurring deep below the surface of the Red Planet. Unlike earthquakes, which are mostly caused by the movement of tectonic plates, marsquakes are caused by other activity, such as volcanism and cracks forming in the planet’s crust.
Taking the temperature of Mars
In order to take Mars’s temperature, the HP3 heat probe will burrow deeper than any other probe has gone before, as far as five metres down.
Finding this information is crucial not only to our understanding of the Red Planet and what the source of its heat is, but also in helping scientists determine whether it formed from the same material as Earth and the moon.
The final major instrument, RISE, will measures the wobble of Mars’s north pole as the sun pushes and pulls it in its orbit, providing clues on the size and composition of Mars’s metallic core.
It’s worth remembering that while InSight will be getting most of the attention, the rocket taking it to Mars will also be taking two cubesats with it, both called Mars Cube One (MarCO). Their goal is to test new, miniaturised deep space communication equipment and, if the MarCOs make it, they may relay back InSight data as the lander enters the Martian atmosphere and touches down on the surface.
Thanks to the advent of modern technology, those of us back here on Earth can watch the landing take place in as close to real time as possible online. It is expected to touch down at approximately 8pm UTC on Monday 26 November.
It can be watched directly from NASA TV – hosted via YouTube – where its analysts and experts will be running build-up coverage from 7pm UTC the same day.