In January 2018, workers extended the solar arrays that will power the InSight spacecraft on Mars.NASA
- NASA’s Mars InSight lander hit the red planet’s surface on Monday afternoon.
- The robot will scan for Mars quakes, the Martian version of Earthquakes.
- It will also give scientists a better idea of what the planet has been up to for the past 4.5 billion years.
- Here’s a rundown of everything the lander can do.
After seven years of development, NASA just put a solar-powered lander on Mars.
The robot is named InSight, which stands for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport. The 794-pound laboratory hit Martian soil on Monday, after nearly seven months of whizzing through space.
On Mars, InSight will pursue three main goals: taking the planet’s temperature, measuring its size, and monitoring for Mars quakes. Scientists at NASA say this work is kind of like giving the red planet a “checkup.”
Here’s what the roughly $828 million mission could accomplish.
Instead, it’s more like an unmanned research station. InSight scientists hope the lander will give them a better understanding of how all rocky planets, including Earth, formed.
NASA-JPL Caltech-Lockheed Martin
InSight is equipped with a suite of sensitive instruments to gather data. Those tools “require a spacecraft that sits still and carefully places its instruments on the Martian surface,” according to NASA.
InSight will hammer a heat probe up to 16 feet deep into the Martian soil. The process will take about two months.
It will take 20,000-30,000 hammer strokes for the device, which NASA calls a “self-hammering heat probe,” to reach its final depth.
InSight will also be on the lookout for Mars quakes.
One of NASA’s twin Viking Mars landers being placed in an oven to be sterilized for its mission to the surface of the red planet.NASA
If Earth has earthquakes, then Mars must have quakes, too. But quakes on Mars are more mysterious than earthquakes, which are usually caused by shifts in Earth’s tectonic plates.
Scientists think Mars quakes could be caused by other types of tectonic activity, like volcanism, cracks in the planet’s crust, or even meteorite impacts.
Scientists expect to observe dozens if not hundreds of quakes during the time that InSight sits on Mars.
NASA tried studying Mars quakes once before with its Viking landers in the late 1970s. But their instruments sat on top of the landers and often swayed in the wind.
“I joke that we didn’t do seismology on Mars, we did it three feet above Mars,” Bruce Banerdt, InSight’s principal investigator, said.