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Next Up for Mars: InSight to See Inside the Red Planet

NASA's InSight, launching in 2016, will see inside the red planet.

smithsonian.com

In a new video scientists explain the goals, equipment, and history behind InSight, NASA’s latest low-budget fact finding mission, slated to take off to Mars in 2016. The mission’s major goal is to understand the planet’s interior in an attempt to sort out how the small rocky planets that make up the inner half of our solar system came to be. The mission also hopes to figure out once and for all whether Mars is seismically active.

InSight will carry a hammer to punch five meters into the Martian soil and make a hole from which it can take measurements. It will also use seismic waves to image the planet’s interior. Wired:

Though a rocky planet like Earth, Mars is much smaller than our home world and has evolved quite differently. Unlike Earth, the red planet has no crustal plates and no global magnetic field. It remains an open question whether Marsquakes shake its surface and how much.

An artist’s rendition of what the Martian interior looks like. Photo: NASA/JPL

Unlike the big-budget rover Curiosity, InSight will be a cheap lander, costing just $425 million compared to Curiosity’s $2.5 billion.

“We’ll be doing comparative planetology. We know the internal structure of the Earth, but we have nothing to compare it with,” said Tom Pike to the BBC.

We don’t know if Earth is a special case or a more general case. A lot of science is based on it being a more general case because that allows you to develop theories about how the core formed, the mantle around it and then the crust on top. But we’d really like to test this out on another planet.

 

More from Smithsonian.com:
Mars Day Preview with Geologist Dr. John Grant
The Tallest Mountains in the Solar System

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About Colin Schultz
Colin Schultz

Colin Schultz is a freelance science writer and editor based in Toronto, Canada. He blogs for Smart News and contributes to the American Geophysical Union. He has a B.Sc. in physical science and philosophy, and a M.A. in journalism.

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