Mars InSight Mission’s Landing Site Is As Flat As A Stadium Parking Lot

Posted: Nov 8 2018, 2:53pm CST | by , Updated: Nov 8 2018, 3:01pm CST , in Latest Science News


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Mars InSight Mission’s Landing Site is as Flat as a Stadium Parking Lot
The area where the spacecraft has about a 99 percent chance of landing. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU

Once InSight makes it to Mars, the mission will study the deep interior of the planet.

NASA’s upcoming InSight mission is scheduled to land on Mars surface on November 26. The lander will study the heart of Mars including marsquakes and heat and will become the first mission to investigate a planet’s deep interior. So far, we have only studied one rocky planet Earth in detail.

Landing on Mars and other similar planets is very challenging. But InSight will try to make a safe touchdown on its intended landing site on Mars. Elysium Planitia, the site chosen for the Nov. 26 landing, is a flat-smooth plain just north of the equator, making it the perfect location to land on Martian surface.

"The site has to be a low-enough elevation to have sufficient atmosphere above it for a safe landing, because the spacecraft will rely first on atmospheric friction with its heat shield and then on a parachute digging into Mars' tenuous atmosphere for a large portion of its deceleration," said Tom Hoffman, InSight project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "And after the chute has fallen away and the braking rockets have kicked in for final descent, there needs to be a flat expanse to land on – not too undulating and relatively free of rocks that could tip the tri-legged Mars lander."

The landing site of NASA's next Mars mission may look like a stadium parking lot but it will be the place where team will use some creative measurements to analyze seismic waves and flow of heat beneath the surface. The site was picked from 22 candidates and is centered at about 400 miles from Mars current rover Curiosity’s landing site in Gale Crater.

“Picking a good landing site on Mars is a lot like picking a good home: It's all about location, location, location, “said Hoffman.”And for the first time ever, the evaluation for a Mars landing site had to consider what lay below the surface of Mars. We needed not just a safe place to land, but also a workspace that's penetrable by our 16-foot-long (5-meter) heat-flow probe."

Unlike other Mars rovers or robotic vehicles, InSight is designed to study entire planet from just one spot. All of the InSight investigations will depend on three instruments: Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS), Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3) and mission's Rotation and Interior Structure Experiment (RISE). The resulting data will help researchers to understand how the rocky planets of the solar system formed.

Since InSight can collect seismic and heat data from anywhere on the planet, the mission team selected a relatively smooth and simple touchdown location. The site is bright and has lots of sunlight to power the spacecraft. Its surface also has fewer rocks, making landing just a bit easier and less dangerous.

"Previous missions to the Red Planet have investigated its surface by studying its canyons, volcanoes, rocks and soil," said InSight principal investigator Bruce Banerdt at JPL. "But the signatures of the planet's formation processes can be found only by sensing and studying evidence buried far below the surface. It is InSight's job to study the deep interior of Mars, taking the planet's vital signs – its pulse, temperature and reflexes."

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/47" rel="author">Hira Bashir</a>
The latest discoveries in science are the passion of Hira Bashir (). With years of experience, she is able to spot the most interesting new achievements of scientists around the world and cover them in easy to understand reporting.




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