NASA has released new pictures from the surface of Mars and they are the clearest we’ve ever seen of the red planet.
The breathtaking quality of the newest InSight pictures is a vast improvement from its first images, which were impressive despite being partially obscured by dust and protective covers.
The picture was speckled with dirt because the dust cover was still on the lander’s camera, but the terrain around the spacecraft looked smooth and sandy with just one sizeable rock visible – which was pretty much what scientists had hoped for.
InSight’s 77-mile final descent took nearly seven minutes and was particularly tense for the teams as the craft navigated the thin Martian atmosphere. It made it to the surface by using atmospheric friction, a giant parachute, and several retro rockets. All systems functioned as planned and the landing was at a soft and gentle 5 miles per hour.
Because of the distance between Earth and Mars, it took eight minutes for confirmation to arrive, relayed by a pair of tiny satellites that had been trailing InSight and are now in a stationary orbit above the planet. These satellites not only provided constant status updates, but they also sent back InSight’s first image from the surface of Mars four minutes after landing.
The NASA Insight Twitter account is the kind of social media user that you’d expect a millennial spacecraft should be. It’s keeping us in the loop by tweeting checklists, selfies, and shoutouts!
Raise your hand if you’re in this new photo from #Mars! These two tiny chips contain the names of more than 2.4 million people who signed up to fly with me. We’re ON MARS, you guys. You’re all honorary Martians! pic.twitter.com/vDwJl9FzVC
— NASAInSight (@NASAInSight) December 6, 2018
In addition to the nameplate chips, the Instrument Deployment Camera (IDC) image from Tuesday shows the arm and a stowed-away grapple. The copper-colored device is a seismometer that will hunt for marsquakes. The dome-shaped object behind it is a wind and thermal shield for the instruments.
The location in Elysium Planitia north of its equator was chosen primarily for its flat, mostly rockless surface. It lies not far from the landing spot for the Mars rover Curiosity, the last spacecraft sent to the Red Planet by NASA. Curiosity, which arrived in 2012, and is still on the move on Mars.
Unlike NASA’s wandering rovers, the smaller, 880-pound InSight – or (INterior exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) is designed to stay in one place and deploy instruments onto the surface of Mars. This two-year mission aims to shine new light on how the Red Planet was formed and its deep structure, by mapping its core, crust, and mantle. To achieve this, the probe is fitted with powerful sensors and equipment to help collect data. It possesses the ability to burrow five meters into the ground of Mars, measure the planet’s temperature, detect marsquakes, and determine how Mars wobbles on its axis. There are solar panels the size of ping-pong tables to power the craft, and a robotic arm that stretches nearly six feet long and will be used to move scientific instruments around.
There are currently 15 man-made landers or rovers on Mars (3 from the former USSR, 10 from the US and 1 each from the United Kingdom and the European Space Agency). This mission marks the 21st U.S.-launched Martian exploration, with nearly two dozen other Mars missions sent from other nations.
Random Martian facts:
Evidence suggests that Mars previously had large-scale water coverage and small geyser-like water flows.The two polar ice caps appear to be made largely of water.
It is home to both the highest known mountain in our solar system Olympus Mons, the highest known and of Valles Marineris, the largest canyon.
Mars is the only planet with only two moons. Both Phobos and Deimos are small and irregularly shaped.
During a Martian polar winter, large areas lie in continuous darkness, chilling the surface and causing much of the atmosphere to condense into thick slabs of CO2 ice (dry ice).
Mars is the only known extraterrestrial planet where humans could possibly survive without massive radiation shielding.
It’s the only planet besides Earth with a relatively transparent atmosphere.
Mars is the farthest terrestrial planet from the sun.