Article written by: Apostolos Christou, resident Astronomer at Armagh Observatory and Planetarium
Some seven months ago, a NASA spacecraft called InSight was launched atop an Atlas 5 rocket and headed to Mars (Figure 1). If all goes well, the spacecraft will land on the Martian surface at around 8pm UK time this Monday 26th November and begin its science investigation. InSight is a fixed lander (see Figure 2 below), a much simpler affair than the Curiosity rover that arrived in 2012 and continues its trek across the floor of Gale crater to this day. Mobility, is however, not required for the specific aim of the mission.
Fig 1. An Atlas V launches through morning fog from Vandenberg Air Force base, California, on 5 May 2018 carrying the InSight spacecraft to Mars. Credit: Ben Smegelsky/NASA
As its name suggests, InSight will allow scientists to form a picture of the planet’s interior, by detecting seismic waves generated by marsquakes. It will help us better understand how other rocky planets, including Earth, were and are being created. As a bonus, it will also detect impacts by small asteroids, the so-called “meteoroids” on the surface to find out how often this happens on Mars ...