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article imageOp-Ed: Insight lander — Writing the history of Mars

By Paul Wallis     May 6, 2018 in Science
Los Angeles - The new NASA Mars lander has a truly monumental task – To understand alien geology, and try to make sense of a planet quite unlike Earth in so many ways. Mars is often said to be “like Earth”, but it’s not.
The new Insight lander has to decipher billions of years of planetary evolution. Insight is a really ambitious project, by so many standards. Xenogeology, the study of geology on other worlds, is literally at the fetal stage. Before now, the Moon was the sum total of available materials in this field. This is the original, first candy store for geologists, a world that really is unique.
They’re both “rocky planets”, that not very useful definition, but spot the differences. What happens when materials are exposed to hard radiation for billions of years? What new compounds, new chemical processes, etc., are possible?
During a prelaunch briefing at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California  Tom Hoffman  InSight Project...
During a prelaunch briefing at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, Tom Hoffman, InSight Project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, speaks to members of the media.
NASA/Cory Huston
The idea of the Insight lander is to study how Mars was formed. That’s working foundation for understanding a world of many complex structures, a largely conjectural history, and some of the most unusual geology ever seen. Olympus Mons, for example, the biggest volcano in the solar system, is quite unique. What, pray tell, created it? How does 300,000 square kilometres of volcano happen? That’s bigger than some reasonably large countries. What about the Martian dust, the vast range of different types of geological forms and materials?
If you’re somehow getting the impression there’s a lot to learn, that’s just the obvious. The usual story with any type of research is that you discover things you’ve never seen before, and have to explain them, too. It’s why researchers are such driven people.
That said – Give a researcher a whole new planet to play with, and you have the makings of a lot of new science. Insight will be a truly ground breaking event for geology, across the entire spectrum of the science. You’d have to have rocks in your head to not appreciate this fabulous project.
Insight is due to land in November, only six months away. Just look out for hordes of stampeding geologists when it lands.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about NASA Insight Mars Lander, xenogeology, Geology, Olympus Mons, Mars geology
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