NASA's InSight Lander Will Look Under the Surface of Mars For the First Time

Wednesday, 28 March 2018 - 8:11PM
Space
Mars
NASA
Wednesday, 28 March 2018 - 8:11PM
NASA's InSight Lander Will Look Under the Surface of Mars For the First Time
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NASA/JPL-Caltech
Mars doesn't experience earthquakes (or rather, "marsquakes") in the same way Earth does, because Mars doesn't have appear to have shifting plate tectonics under its surface. But we haven't really gotten a clear look at that yet.

We're about to, finally, as NASA prepares their Mars InSight lander (which is apparently short for "Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations") for its launch this November. Unlike rovers such as Curiosity, it won't be very mobile once it touches down on the Martian surface, but it will come equipped with a robotic arm and several tools for examining Mars' inner workings.

The most important tool being its seismometer, which will listen for marsquakes as they happen, because Mars can experience quakes for a variety of different reasons.



For example, magma activity or asteroids colliding into Mars' surface can cause quakes that are just as significant as any earthquake. And every time something does happen, vibrations will move throughout Mars' inner layers until they finally reach the surface, and InSight will be able to learn valuable new information on just how Mars formed based on studying how those vibrations travel.

Seismology can give us a much better look at Mars' history than it does on Earth - while our planet's tectonic activity is always shifting around and burying any indicators of how our planet looked millions or billions of years ago, Mars doesn't have that problem. So seismic activity, when you know how to look at it, can show us a lot about how Mars looked in its early days, back when it may have had more water and potentially life.

Bruce Banerdt, who works on the InSight mission at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said the following in an official statement from NASA:

Opening quote
"During formation, this ball of featureless rock metamorphosed into a diverse and fascinating planet, almost like caterpillar to a butterfly. We want to use seismology to learn why Mars formed the way it did, and how planets take shape in general."
Closing quote




Right now, we have a very limited idea of what Mars would look like if we chopped it in half. Considering space agencies like NASA and companies like SpaceX are making plans to land astronauts there within the next decade, it'll be extremely useful to know what exactly the first astronauts are standing on when they arrive.

And more importantly, those astronauts will need to know how many marsquakes they should be expecting. If a strong enough one could knock over their lander, that'd be a big problem.
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