"We know a lot about the surface of Mars, we know a lot about its atmosphere and even its ionosphere," says Bruce Banerdt, lead mission scientist, in a NASA video. "But we do not know much about what happens one kilometer below the surface, let alone 2,000 kilometers below the surface." InSight aims to fill this gap by helping NASA map the deep structure of Mars.
By better understanding the interior of Mars, scientists hope to advance our understanding of how rocky planets, such as Mars and the Earth, evolve and develop over time. While this mission is not directly life-seeking, as past missions have been, some of the discoveries about Mars' mysterious core could provide clues to ancestral conditions that could support life.
It could also help answer the question: Why is the modern Earth so habitable, but not the red planet?
After a 7-month trip, InSight is expected to land on November 26 on a very flat stretch near the equator to make it easier for InSight to deploy its various instruments. InSight will spend its first two months placing instruments on the surface to investigate the interior of Mars.
According to NASA, these instruments include the thermal flux and physical properties probe, which will drill up to 5m in the ground to measure the heat emanating from the depths of the planet. A tool known as "Rotation and Interior Structure Experiment" (or RISE) is a radiological science experiment that will measure oscillations as the planet rotates. RISE will help glean information on the composition and condition of the heart of Mars.
The lander will also deploy a super sensitive seismometer, of French origin, capable of monitoring tiny tremors of the planet's surface.
Earthquakes on the red planet have not yet been detected, but scientists are almost positive that they are happening. As the planet cools and shrinks, it is believed that the crust is also cracking, triggering earthquakes of magnitude 6 or 7. A similar activity has already been recorded on the moon. The meteorite strikes could play a role in the Marsquakes too. Such quakes can be used to image the inside of the planet.
In the 1970s, NASA's Viking 2 was the only seismometer ever to work on Mars. Because it was not placed directly on the ground, the wind often obscured the measurements. He only measured a rumble that could have been an earthquake, but even that was ambiguous and not particularly useful. A 1996 Soviet mission also attempted to measure seismic activity, but this mission failed.
Maybe InSight will give scientists their first clues about the quakes of this far-off world.
Credit: NASA Photo