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Oregon Family Magazine

Insight Mission to Mars

09/03/2018 21:17 ● Published by Sandy Kauten
On November 26, 2018 a new robotic visitor will touch down on the surface of Mars. NASA’s InSight mission launched on May 5 from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, making it the first interplanetary mission launched from the west coast. InSight has been cruising through the solar system all summer long, getting closer and closer to the red planet. Even though it’s traveling at several thousand miles per hour, it will take a total of 6 ½ months to reach its destination.

The InSight spacecraft is a lander mission, which makes it fundamentally different from other robotic Mars missions you may be familiar with. Curiosity and Opportunity are rover missions, meaning they landed on Mars and now drive around on its surface exploring different regions across Mars. MAVEN and Mars Odyssey are orbiting missions, meaning they never landed on Mars. Instead they are currently in orbit around Mars, flying high above the planet studying it from a distance. Landers like InSight land on Mars but don’t move after that. They always stay in the same spot where they land.

What exactly will this spacecraft do when it lands on Mars? The name of the mission reveals some clues; InSight stands for Interior exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy, and Heat Transfer. InSight will give us our first detailed look at what happens beneath the Martian surface. Mounted to the lander are a suite of scientific instruments that will gather valuable data about the interior of the red planet. In a sense, these instruments will give Mars a thorough check up, similar to one you may get when you visit your doctor:

  • A seismometer will check the “pulse” of Mars, measuring marsquakes and other seismic activity.
  • A heat probe will burrow several meters below the surface, checking the temperature of Mars at different depths.
  • A radio science instrument will check the “reflexes” of Mars, tracking the slight wobble of the planet as it orbits the sun.

Working together, these instruments will help us explore unanswered questions about the detailed structure of the interior of the planet, the formation and evolution of Mars, as well as the extent of tectonic activity on Mars today.

Want to learn more about Mars and find out exactly where it will be in the skies tonight? Join us at the Eugene Science Center Planetarium for Stargazing Tonight, an interactive planetarium show that is presented live by our staff astronomy experts. It’s a great opportunity to learn more about what’s up in the sky and to get your astronomy questions answered. The planetarium at Eugene Science Center is one of the largest in the Pacific Northwest. The planetarium was updated in August 2018 with a brand new state-of-the-art 4K projection system. For upcoming showtimes and more information visit www.eugenesciencecenter.org/planetarium

by Haley Sharp, Planetarium Director at Eugene Science Center