By: Nick Swafford
A few weeks ago, the InSight probe left Earth’s welcoming atmosphere to embark on a journey through the icy and unforgiving emptiness that is the vacuum of space. On May 5, 2018, the InSight probe, or more accurately the lander, was sent into space in hopes it can unveil some of the mysteries that shroud Earth’s sister planet, Mars.
The mysteries that InSight is hoped to reveal surround Mars’ interior. I’m almost 100% sure that everyone reading this has seen the diagrams of Earth’s interior, the ones displaying the Crust, Mantle, Outer Core, and Inner Core. Ones that looks like this:
Look familiar? Thought it might. Now while the inner workings of Earth are relatively well known, Mars’ are much more illusive. That’s what NASA aims to fix with their new probe, InSight.
We know very little information about the interior of the Red Planet, but the knowledge we do have of our planet leads scientists to believe that Mars has a thin crust, little to no mantle, a solid outer core, as well as a molten core thought to be made of a mixture of iron, sulfur, and possibly even oxygen. Of course, everything is a “probably” and not very reliable, considering that, before this mission, we had no way of knowing what resides even beyond the surface.
NASA is not fond of “probably”s, so they constructed InSight to solve the problem once and for all. Set to arrive on November 26th, 2018, the probe will land in the Elysium Planitia plain and then set up shop. InSight is outfitted with top-of-the-line, state-of-the-art equipment such as the SEIS, HP3, and RISE. The SEIS machine is the main seismometer. It connects to the ground and detects any and all movement within the interior of the planet. The SEIS is so sensitive that it can detect movement from things as small as hydrogen atoms. This machine doesn’t stop at its ability to map the innards of the planet; it can also be used to find out what the early stages of the planet looked like and what kind of materials created what Mars is today.
The HP3 is the “Heat Flow Tube” of the lander. The job for this machine is to drill deep inside of Mars’ surface and sense the heat that the core is giving off. Gaining this information will help how similar Earth and Mars really are and see how the planet evolved. The RISE is basically a radio, or recorder on steroids, as it tracks Mars’ orbit and movement of the lander as time goes on. It also measures the depth in which the core becomes molten and determines what other materials lie past the surface other than iron. It simply must be clarified that all three of these critical instruments work in unison and share the data with each other before the data can be sent back to NASA.
The probe itself runs on pure solar power, which it should have no issue with as Mars has little to no atmosphere to deflect the harmful radiation coming from the sun—allowing more energy to reach the solar panels. The solar panels are expected to last the entire duration of the mission, which is roughly 2 Earth years. Sadly, the lander will have no return flight to Earth, left on the desolate sands of Mars, maybe to never be seen by human eyes again. Aside from all the doom and gloom, this lander will give us vital information we need to continue our education of the surrounding universe.