After a long journey, it’s time to get to work.
NASA’s InSight lander, having successfully landed on Mars, is getting to work. The lander has lifted its arm and taken the first pictures of its Martian landing site.
These pictures are crucial to InSight’s mission—they will help NASA decide where to set up InSight’s seismometer and heat-flow probe. These instruments will be the first ever to be robotically placed on the surface of another planet.
“Today we can see the first glimpses of our workspace,” says Bruce Banerdt, the mission’s principal investigator at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, speaking in a press statement. “By early next week, we’ll be imaging it in finer detail and creating a full mosaic.”
InSight is around the size of an SUV, and its arm is the size of a person—six feet, to be exact. Using the Instrument Deployment Camera (IDC), which has a resolution of 1024 x 1024 pixels and a 45-degree field of view, the lander has documented its surrounding terrain. The lander’s other technical probe, the Instrument Context Camera (ICC), is also at work. But the ICC, located underneath the lander’s deck, is demonstrating that Mars is still unpredictable.
“We had a protective cover on the Instrument Context Camera, but somehow dust still managed to get onto the lens,” says Tom Hoffman of JPL, InSight’s project manager. “While this is unfortunate, it will not affect the role of the camera, which is to take images of the area in front of the lander where our instruments will eventually be placed.”
NASA must choose the exact location of its instruments with care. The heat-flow probe will be burrowing down almost 16 feet (five meters) into the Martian surface, deeper than any probe in history. Determining the heat flow beneath the surface will give scientists a better understanding of the planet’s origins, and whether they’re similar to how the Earth and its moon formed.
The seismometer, known as SEIS, will be examining the planet’s internal activity, trying to detect pulses from seismic waves, meteor impacts, and even marsquakes. When a placement site is chosen, it will take two to three months to situate and calibrate these instruments. However, NASA feels strongly that the wait is worth it.
“We’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time, says Philippe Lognonné, principal investigator of the seismometer. “It’s been 130 years since the first seismic record on Earth and almost 50 years since a seismometer was placed on the Moon during the Apollo program. What we learn from SEIS will shed light on how Mars formed and evolved.”
The mission’s raw photos can be found on NASA’s website.