It is a momentous occasion for the team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), as the Insight robotic probe has successfully landed on Mars. This is the eighth successful mission to Mars and undoubtedly one of the most important ones ever. That is because this is the first probe that will carry out comprehensive tests to assess the geology and seismic activity on the red planet. Previous missions have shed light on the atmospheric composition and terrestrial aspects of our cosmic neighbor. But a thorough study of what lies deep beneath the surface, even as far as the core, will improve our understanding of how planets form and how their seismic activity affects surface conditions.
Insight, which is an abbreviation for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport, was launched on the 5th of May and traveled nearly 300 million miles at a top speed of over 6000 miles an hour. Landing on the red planet is considerably difficult, given the fact that its atmosphere is extremely thin, about 1% that of earth’s. The landing requires the probe to slow down to a paltry 5 mph, made possible by a parachute and retro rockets. The Insight has three major instruments to conduct its experiments.
The first one is a set of seismometers to detect “marsquakes”. They will determine the composition of the layers of rocks. The second is a mole system that will dig 5m into the surface to find out the temperature and know how geologically active the planet is. The third instrument will use radio transmission to measure how Mars wobbles on its axis. This will determine the distribution of liquid in the core to know if it is solid or not.