News / Science & Technology

New Mars Lander to Probe Interior of Red Planet

FILE - An image from NASA's Mars rover Curiosity shows the surface of the planet in this NASA handout released January 15, 2013.
FILE - An image from NASA's Mars rover Curiosity shows the surface of the planet in this NASA handout released January 15, 2013.
Rick Pantaleo
The U.S. space agency, NASA, recently gave the green light for the construction of a new Mars lander that will examine the deep interior of the Red Planet.

The new Mars mission is called the Interior Exploration Using Seismic Investigation Geodesy and Heat Transport, which is why everyone knows it by its acronym: InSight.  The mission’s spacecraft is scheduled to launch from California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base in March 2016 and due to arrive on Mars later that year, in September.
 
Bruce Banerdt, from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, is the InSight’s principal investigator. He said that some of the technology the lander will use to study the interior of Mars is similar to what geologists have been using to study the Earth.
 
“The idea behind it is to use some geophysical instruments, mostly a seismometer and a heat-flow probe to better understand the interior structure of Mars, both its composition, layering, what’s going on inside, stuff like that,” said Banerdt.
 
InSight’s study of the interior of Mars may not only provide a fresh look into the creation of our own planet but also other Earth-like planets located within and beyond our solar system.
 
“We really want to understand how the terrestrial planets, the rocky planets, formed early on in the solar system, and how that formation sort of led to the kinds of conditions we have on the surface,” said Banerdt.
 
Unlike the popular Curiosity and Opportunity rovers that are traveling across Mars, the InSight will be sent to a location near the Red Planet’s equator and remain stationary to conduct its research.
 
Banerdt said that the new Mars lander will map out the geography of the deep Martian interior. 
 
“And by that I mean how thick is the crust, what’s the crust made out of? And then how big is the core, what is it made out of? What are the thermal characteristics of everything in terms of the heat flow, energy production? Things like that,” said Banerdt.
 
Multinational effort

The spacecraft will carry a bevy of sophisticated new instruments to carry out its mission. The space agencies of Germany, France, Switzerland and the United Kingdom are providing two of the most important tools for the mission.
 
Among InSight’s instruments is a seismometer that will measure and analyze seismic waves that shake the ground, mostly due to quakes.
 
Another tool aboard the Mars lander is a heat-flow probe that will burrow itself down about 4.5 to 5 meters beneath the planet’s surface.  The device will measure small increases in temperature as it tunnels further into the crust of Mars. Banerdt said this tool will allow his research team to figure out how much heat is coming from the planet’s interior.
 
“This heat flow is what drives a lot of the geology: it drives volcanism; on Mars, it can drive uplift of mountain ranges; and so the amount of heat coming out of it is a basic parameter that we need to learn in order to find out how active a planet is,” said Banerdt.
 
And, one important tool that will be used to conduct InSight’s research isn’t really an instrument, but rather, a radio on the spacecraft that will send out signals that will be tracked here on Earth by project scientists.
 
Following the signal produced by the radio sitting on the rotating planet will allow the research team to watch Mars rotate on its axis and actually watch that axis “wobble a little bit.”
 
“The size of that wobble tells us about the distribution of material inside the planet.  So by using an analysis of this wobble, we can tell the details of the core. Because that’s what really drives the magnitude of these wobbles - it’s the size of the core, its density, and whether it’s solid or liquid,” said Banerdt.
 
The new Mars lander will also be equipped with a weather station and camera that will provide further information about the Red Planet.
 
InSight’s mission is expected to last for about one Mars-year or two Earth years.
 
By better understanding what’s behind the interior of Mars, Banerdt said that scientists will be able to get a better idea of what the Earth might have looked like very early in its history.

You May Like

Turkey's Erdogan: Women Not Equal to Men

Speaking at conference in Istanbul, President Erdogan says Islam has defined a position for women: motherhood More

Ahead of SAARC Summit, Subdued Expectations

Some regional analysts say distrust between Pakistani, Indian officials has slowed SAARC's progress over the year More

Philippines Leery of Development on Reef Reclamation in S. China Sea

Chinese land reclamation projects in area have been ongoing for years, but new satellite imagery reportedly shows China’s massive construction project More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar Opposition to Keep Pushing for Constitutional Changei
X
November 24, 2014 10:09 PM
Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she and her supporters will continue pushing to amend a constitutional clause that bars her from running for president next year. VOA's Than Lwin Htun reports from the capital Naypyitaw in this report narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar Opposition to Keep Pushing for Constitutional Change

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she and her supporters will continue pushing to amend a constitutional clause that bars her from running for president next year. VOA's Than Lwin Htun reports from the capital Naypyitaw in this report narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Mali Attempts to Shut Down Ebola Transmission Chain

Senegal and Nigeria were able to stop small Ebola outbreaks by closely monitoring those who had contact with the sick person and quickly isolating anyone with symptoms. Mali is now scrambling to do the same. VOA’s Anne Look reports from Mali on what the country is doing to shut down the chain of transmission.
Video

Video Ukraine Marks Anniversary of Deadly 1930s Famine

During a commemoration for millions who died of starvation in Ukraine in the early 1930s, President Petro Poroshenko lashed out at Soviet-era totalitarianism for causing the deaths and accused today’s Russian-backed rebels in the east of using similar tactics. VOA’s Daniel Shearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests at a Crossroads

New public opinion polls in Hong Kong indicate declining support for pro-democracy demonstrations after weeks of street protests. VOA’s Bill Ide in Guangzhou and Pros Laput in Hong Kong spoke with protesters and observers about whether demonstrators have been too aggressive in pushing for change.
Video

Video US Immigration Relief Imminent for Mixed-Status Families

Tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants in the Washington, D.C., area may benefit from a controversial presidential order announced this week. It's not a path to citizenship, as some activists hoped. But it will allow more immigrants who arrived as children or who have citizen children, to avoid deportation and work legally. VOA's Victoria Macchi talks with one young man who benefited from an earlier presidential order, and whose parents may now benefit after years of living in fear.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid