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InSight probe sends back the first two photos of Mars, but what’s next?

InSight probe captured the first images of the red planet only a couple of minutes after it touched down on 26 November 2018. Credits : NASA T

NASA’s InSight probe has managed to survive it’s risky decent into the Martian atmosphere, even allowing it to take two photographs of the the planet’s surface two minutes later.  What are the next steps for the probe?  

After travelling about 480 million kilometres and a precarious eight minute decent, NASA’s InSight probe has eventually touched down successfully on the 26 November on the surface of Mars. There must have been a real sigh of relief from the team from NASA, at Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).  The probe even offered the very first photo (which is rather dusty) of the martian surface, taken only a few minutes after landing.

Every thing was carried out without a hitch from the opening of the the parachute to the deployment of the heat shield and the landing gear.  Now InSight has touched down it will start to reuse it’s solar panels.  Jim Smith NASA’s head of science explained that, “The first few minutes on Mars were supplied by battery as the solar panels fixed onto the vehicle carrier were abandoned before InSight’s decent.”

Insight Mars NASA photo
The Instrument deployment camera (IDC), located on the robotic arm of NASA’s InSight lander, look this photo of the Martian surface on the 26 November 2018, the same day it landed on the Red Planet. Credits : NASA/JPL-Caltech

What’s next for the Martian lander?

Once the panels have been activated and give the lander a new energy source, InSight will take more photos.  However the lander can set up other functions such as a seismometor (SEIS) which can measure Mars’ earthquakes.  As soon as these instruments are in place InSight will then install it’s thermionic HP3 probe which will record the Red Planet’s temperature.

Jim Green explained how the probe will measure record the temperature in an interview with Live Science. “It’s like a cake.  You bake a cake, and when you take it from the oven, it’s still hot inside while it’s cooling off. All the planets are still cooling off from when they were made 4.5 billion years ago. And so, the interior of Mars is hot, and that heat is still filtering through the mantle and the crust — and HP3 is designed to make that measurement”.

However this programme could take some time to install especially on a extraterrestrial world;  Several weeks are needed for the probe to be completely functional.  “It is a very slow and methodical process,” explains a researcher.  “We expect to have to wait until the start of 2019 for the mission to start properly.”

Why are they studying earthquakes on Mars?

Primarily it is because, earthquakes are triggered and are formed differently on the Red Planet than they are on Earth.  These difference could help to under the history of rocky planets better in general and even our own planet – despite the radical differences in which earthquakes form.

No tectonic plates on Mars

The majority of earthquakes on our planet are caused by the movement of tectonic plates.  An enormous moving geological jigsaw located beneath our feet causing some plates to rub against, collide or slide underneath one another.  Vibrations are then registered which are caused by earthquakes. However Mars doesn’t have tectonic plates.  As a result these vibrations are much smaller and less easily felt.  The goal of the InSight’s mission will be to register these vibrations so that they can determine where they come from.

In addition, seismic waves running through the plant collect a lot of information that will help researchers understand more about the interior of Mars.  On Earth traces of it’s formation have been lost forever because of the movements of tectonic plates.  Mars which does not have tectonic plates, could still have traces of it’s formation.  This is why  NASA are interested in the this aspect of the mission.  By understanding the interior layers of Mars, we can also gain a better understanding of how Earth was formed. 


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