Nasa’s robotic Mars lander, InSight, will study the interior structure of the Red Planet to answer questions about the early formation of the inner planets – Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars – 4.5 billion years ago.
InSight (aka Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) is the first mission ever dedicated to the Red Planet’s deep interior and will use its trio of instruments to enable scientists to understand how different its crust, mantle and core are from their counterparts on Earth.
InSight’s Rotation and Interior Structure Experiment, RISE, uses the same technology that a smartphone uses to find its location. RISE will precisely track the location of the lander to determine just how much the North Pole wobbles as Mars orbits the Sun.
These observations will provide detailed information on the size of Mars’ iron-rich core and help determine whether the centre is liquid or solid.
The Heat Flow and Physical Properties Probe, HP3 for short, will be placed on the planet’s surface by InSight’s robot arm.
Developed by the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt), HP3 will burrow down to almost five metres to take Mars’ temperature, reveal how much heat is flowing out of the planet, and what the source of that heat is. HP3 will help determine whether Mars formed from the same stuff as Earth and the Moon.
The third instrument, developed by France’s Centre National d’Études Spatiales (CNES), is an ultra-sensitive seismometer.
SEIS, the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure, is also placed on the Martian surface to take the “pulse” of Mars – seismic waves created by quakes, meteorite impacts, and even surface vibrations generated by activity such as dust storms.
These seismic events, heat flows and wobbles will give a “snapshot” of the planet’s interior and could inform scientists how the Earth formed and evolved.
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