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

    Post-White House, Obamas to Rent Washington Mansion

    Nine-bedroom home is 3 kilometers from Oval Office, near capital's Embassy Row; rent estimated at around $22,000 a month

    Red Planet? Not so much!

    New research suggest that Mars is in a warm period between cyclical ice ages, and that during Ice Age Maximum over 500,000 years ago, the red planet was decidedly ice, and much whiter to the naked eye.

    Taj Mahal Battles New Threat from Insects

    Swarms of insects are proliferating in the heavily contaminated waters of the Yamuna River, which flows behind the 17th century monument

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnami
    X
    Elizabeth Lee
    May 22, 2016 6:04 AM
    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnam

    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video First-generation, Afghan-American Student Sets Sights on Basketball Glory

    Their parents are immigrants to the United States. They are kids who live between two worlds -- their parents' homeland and the U.S. For many of them, they feel most "American" at school. It can be tricky balancing both worlds. In this report, produced by Beth Mendelson, Arash Arabasadi tells us about one Afghan-American student who seems to be coping -- one shot at a time.
    Video

    Video Newest US Citizens, Writing the Next Great Chapter

    While universities across the United States honor their newest graduates this Friday, many immigrants in downtown Manhattan are celebrating, too. One hundred of them, representing 31 countries across four continents, graduated as U.S. citizens, joining the ranks of 680,000 others every year in New York and cities around the country.
    Video

    Video Vietnam Sees Strong Economic Growth Despite Incomplete Reforms

    Vietnam has transformed its communist economy to become one of the world's fastest-growing nations. While the reforms are incomplete, multinational corporations see a profitable future in Vietnam and have made major investments -- as VOA's Jim Randle reports.
    Video

    Video Qatar Denies World Cup Corruption

    The head of Qatar’s organizing committee for the 2022 World Cup insists his country's bid to host the soccer tournament was completely clean, despite the corruption scandals that have rocked the sport’s governing body, FIFA. Hassan Al-Thawadi also said new laws would offer protection to migrants working on World Cup construction projects. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Infrastructure Funding Puts Cambodia on Front Line of International Politics

    When leaders of the world’s seven most developed economies meet in Japan next week, demands for infrastructure investment world wide will be high on the agenda. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push for “quality infrastructure investment” throughout Asia has been widely viewed as a counter to the rise of Chinese investment flooding into region.
    Video

    Video Democrats Fear Party Unity a Casualty in Clinton-Sanders Battle

    Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton claimed a narrow victory in Tuesday's Kentucky primary even as rival Bernie Sanders won in Oregon. Tensions between the two campaigns are rising, prompting fears that the party will have a difficult time unifying to face the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Portrait of a Transgender Marriage: Husband and Wife Navigate New Roles

    As controversy continues in North Carolina over the use of public bathrooms by transgender individuals, personal struggles with gender identity that were once secret are now coming to light. VOA’s Tina Trinh explored the ramifications for one couple as part of trans.formation, a series of stories on transgender issues.
    Video

    Video Amerikan Hero Flips Stereotype of Middle Eastern Character

    An Iranian American comedian is hoping to connect with American audiences through a film that inverts some of Hollywood's stereotypes about Middle Eastern characters. Sama Dizayee reports.
    Video

    Video Budding Young Inventors Tackle City's Problems with 3-D Printing

    Every city has problems, and local officials and politicians are often frustrated by their inability to solve them. But surprising solutions can come from unexpected places. Students in Baltimore. Maryland, took up the challenge to solve problems they identified in their city, and came up with projects and products to make a difference. VOA's June Soh has more on a digital fabrication competition primarily focused on 3-D design and printing. Carol Pearson narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora