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article imageNASA's InSight Mission will use seismology to look inside Mars

By Karen Graham     Apr 2, 2018 in Science
Pasadena - NASA's next mission to Mars should provide us with insights into the workings of Mars' interior. InSight, which stands for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, will measure Marsquakes to learn about the Martian crust, mantle, and core.
The robotic mission will give researchers a first-ever look into the Red Planet's interior and could help to understand the basic question of how planets are formed.
Scientists have learned a lot about how planets form - just from studying the seismologic evidence, or Earthquakes, found here, on Earth. But while Earth may be billions of years old, it is still very active, geologically speaking and the clues InSight will be looking for aren't available anymore because they have been destroyed by erosion, mantle convection, plate tectonics, and other geological processes.
Mars, on the other hand, hasn't been near as active as our planet and hopefully, there may still be traces of its early formation and geologic processes left for InSight to pick up. The mission's lead investigator Bruce Banerdt, said the mission is a culmination of 25 years of planning and effort.
Planet Mars
Planet Mars
NASA, ESA, and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)
“What InSight is going to do is, it is going to sort of fill in the last big hole in our understanding of Mars. We’ve sent orbiters to Mars which have studied the entire surface, [but e]verything more than just a few feet below the surface is completely unknown territory,” Banerdt explains. “And InSight is going to fill in the gap in our knowledge of Mars and sort of finish the reconnaissance of the exploration of Mars.”
InSight will be "the first" in many regards
Not only will InSight be the first robotic mission to study the deep interior of Mars, it will be the first mission to launch to another planet from the West Coast of the United States, a role that has been reserved for Cape Canaveral in Florida.
A launch window has been set for May 5, 2018 - June 8, 2018 (Approximately 4 a.m. PT/7 a.m. ET) at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. The launch vehicle is a United Launch Alliance Atlas V-401. The Atlas V 401 is the smallest of the Atlas V Launcher Family and has two stages, a Common Core Booster and a Centaur Upper Stage.
The Atlas V 401 Launch Vehicle is a part of the flight proven Atlas V 400/500 family that is being o...
The Atlas V 401 Launch Vehicle is a part of the flight proven Atlas V 400/500 family that is being operated by United Launch Alliance.
United Launch Alliance
The Centaur upper stage can make multiple burns to deliver payloads to a variety of orbits including Low Earth Orbit, Geostationary Transfer Orbit, and Geostationary Orbit, Having this particular upper stage will give the mission another "first."
Besides launching InSight beyond Earth, the Atlas V 401 will also launch a separate NASA technology experiment: two mini-spacecraft called Mars Cube One, or MarCO. These suitcase-sized CubeSats will fly on their own path to Mars behind InSight. Now, how cool is that?
If all goes well, this will be the first test of miniaturized CubeSat technology at another planet. It is hoped the CubeSats will relay data on InSight as it enters Mars' atmosphere.
InSight's journey to Mars will end when it lands on the planet's surface on November 26, 2018, on the Elysium Planitia, a volcanic region on Mars. Elysium Planitia is the second largest volcanic region on Mars and is home to three large volcanoes.
Elysium Planitia is the second largest volcanic region on Mars. It is 1 700 by 2 400 km in size and ...
Elysium Planitia is the second largest volcanic region on Mars. It is 1,700 by 2,400 km in size and is also located on an uplift dome. The 3 large volcanoes, Hecates Tholus, Albor Tholus, and Elysium Mons.
NASA
The Insight mission goals
Science Goal 1is meant to study the formation and evolution of Mars. We know that Mars’ crust consists of lighter rocks and minerals, while heavier materials sank down to form its core and mantle. The InSight lander will use several special instruments to investigate the planet's interior.
Just like on Earth, seismic waves are created when internal rocks crack or shift. They travel through the planet until the waves hit the surface, with their speeds depending on the type material they move through. The InSight lander will use a highly sensitive seismometer, created by France's Centre National d'Études Spatiales, to measure the speed, frequency, and size of these waves, giving insight into the geological formations they pass through. This is the second scientific goal.
Engineers use a replica of NASA s InSight lander  which will launch to Mars later this year  at the ...
Engineers use a replica of NASA's InSight lander, which will launch to Mars later this year, at the agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California on March 8, 2018.
NASA
InSight's Rotation and Interior Structure Experiment (RISE) will use a signal sent from Earth to track the lander’s location on the Martian surface. Variations in the signal, known as the Doppler Shift, will show how much Mars wobbles while orbiting the Sun.
A thermal probe, sort of a big thermometer, developed by the German Aerospace Center, which can dig itself up to 16 feet (5 meters) below the surface to measure internal heat will be used to measure Mars' internal heat. The lander will also have temperature, wind and pressure sensors.
Just keep in mind that here, on Earth, seismic sensors are located all around the planet to pick up any vibrations. InSight will be all alone on Mars, and monitoring seismic waves for the entire planet. Previous missions to Mars have investigated the surface history of the Red Planet by examining features like canyons, volcanoes, rocks, and soil.
However, the signatures of the planet's formation can only be found by sensing and studying its "vital signs" far below the surface. Let's hope the mission is a success.
More about InSight mission, NASA, interior of Mars, Seismology
 
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