Digging deep: New Mars mission to take first look at what’s going on deep inside the Red Planet
21 Aug 2012
A UK Space Agency-funded instrument, designed to investigate the interior structure and processes of Mars, has been selected to travel to the Red Planet on NASA’s newly announced InSight mission.
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Artist rendition of the formation of rocky bodies in the solar system.
The new mission, set to launch in 2016, will take the first look into the deep interior of Mars to investigate why, as one of our solar system’s rocky planets, the Red Planet evolved so differently from Earth.
The UK-funded SEIS-SP is a Seismometer that will listen for "marsquakes" and use this information to map the boundaries between the rock layers inside Earth's neighbour. This will help determine if the planet has a liquid or solid core, and provide some clues as to why its surface is not divided up into tectonic plates as on Earth. Detailed knowledge of the interior of Mars in comparison to Earth will help scientists understand better how terrestrial planets form and evolve. The SEIS-SP will be provided by space scientists at Imperial College London and the University of Oxford.
Dr David Williams, Chief Executive of the UK Space Agency, said, "We are delighted that Dr Pike and his team will be playing a crucial role in the InSight mission. Placing a new seismometer on Mars has long been a goal of international scientists, and this is a great example of the pioneering, world-class science and technology supported by the UK Space Agency. The technical challenge is significant but the UK team are proving themselves more than equal to it. The scientific outcomes may well revolutionise our understanding of Mars - and by extension its nearest neighbour: Earth. Where previous Mars missions have scratched the surface, InSight will be digging deeper for the planet’s secrets."
Dr Tom Pike, Principal Investigator for the UK seismometer from the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering at Imperial College London, added, “We are delighted to be playing a key part in a mission which will deliver ground-breaking science and technology; InSight will be the first mission to look at the deep interior of another planet. To fully understand how a planet has evolved, and what processes are still active today, requires knowledge of its deep structure. This in turn tells us how much the interior, surface and atmosphere of Mars have interacted over its history, with important implications for the possibility of life early in its evolution.”
(JPG, 629 Kb) The InSight spacecraft will be a static lander that will carry four instruments. The UK SEIS-SP is one of two seismometers that make up the SEIS instrument. There will also be two cameras and a robotic arm; a sensor that will very accurately determine the degree to which the planet wobbles on its axis; and a probe that will be pushed into the planet’s surface to reveal how the planet is cooling. All the data combined will inform researchers about the internal state of Mars today and how it has changed through the aeons.
Previous exploration of Mars has revealed that the Red Planet was much more geologically active in the past. What has not been established is when and why this activity ceased. InSight will not only help us to better understand what happened to Mars’s geological activity and atmosphere but will give us an insight into whether the internal structure of Earth is a special case or a more general one.