In the known history of our 4.5-billion-year-old solar system, the insides of but one planet have been explored and studied. While there’s a lot left to know about the crust, the mantle and the core of the Earth, there is a large and vibrant field dedicated to that learning.
Sometime next month, an extensive survey of the insides of a second solar system planet will begin. That planet is Mars and, assuming safe arrival, the work will start after the InSight lander touches down on November 26.
This is not a mission that will produce dazzling images and headlines about the search for life on Mars. But in terms of the hard science it is designed to perform, InSight has the potential to tell us an enormous amount about the makeup of Mars, how it formed, and possibly why is it but one-third the size of its terrestrial cousins, Earth and Venus.
“We know a lot about the surface of Mars, we know a lot about its atmosphere and even about its ionosphere,” says Bruce Banerdt, the mission’s principal investigator, in a NASA video. “But we don’t know very much about what goes on a mile below the surface, much less 2,000 miles below the surface.”
The goal of InSight is to fill that knowledge gap, helping NASA map out the deep structure of Mars. And along the way, learn about the inferred formation and interiors of exoplanets, too.
The lander will touch down at Elysium Planitia, a flat expanse due north of the Curiosity landing site. The destination was selected because it is about as safe as a Mars landing site could be, and InSight did not need to be a more complex site with a compelling surface to explore.
“While I’m looking forward to those first images from the surface, I am even more eager to see the first data sets revealing what is happening deep below our landing pads.”… Read more