NASA’s InSight is just weeks away from beginning its new mission when it lands on Mars on November 26, and while NASA has joked about the ordinary plainness of Elysium Planitia, the landing spot for InSight, they also made it abundantly clear that this location was chosen for a very specific reason, despite the rather bland name attributed to it.
According to a NASA press release, Bruce Banerdt, who is InSight’s principal investigator at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, explained, “If Elysium Planitia were a salad, it would consist of romaine lettuce and kale – no dressing. If it were an ice cream, it would be vanilla.”
While NASA notes that the landing location on Mars for InSight may not be very glamorous and may even appear to resemble a stadium parking lot of sorts, this is for a very good reason. After all, according to Banerdt, NASA’s Mars InSight mission will involve a lot of work that will take place deep underground on the planet, and Elysium Planitia is by far one of the most stable locations for these experiments to take place.
“Previous missions to the Red Planet have investigated its surface by studying its canyons, volcanoes, rocks and soil. But the signatures of the planet’s formation processes can be found only by sensing and studying evidence buried far below the surface. It is InSight’s job to study the deep interior of Mars, taking the planet’s vital signs – its pulse, temperature and reflexes.”
To help the InSight science team understand more about the formation of rocky planets like Mars, three experiments will be performed on this mission. The first of these is the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS), which will be helped along by the use of a six-sensor seismometer. With this experiment, scientists will be recording and studying seismic waves deep within Mars.
The second experiment, known as Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3), will be calculating how much heat is being kicked out of Mars.
The third experiment is known as InSight’s Rotation and Interior Structure Experiment (RISE) experiment and will examine the core of Mars while studying the planet’s rotation axis.
Tom Hoffman, InSight project manager at JPL, has explained that while considering landing sites for the new Mars mission, Elysium Planitia was the perfect candidate in every way possible.
“Picking a good landing site on Mars is a lot like picking a good home: It’s all about location, location, location And for the first time ever, the evaluation for a Mars landing site had to consider what lay below the surface of Mars. We needed not just a safe place to land, but also a workspace that’s penetrable by our 16-foot-long (5-meter) heat-flow probe.”
And as Banerdt described the landing location, “If you were a Martian coming to explore Earth’s interior like we are exploring Mars’ interior, it wouldn’t matter if you put down in the middle of Kansas or the beaches of Oahu. While I’m looking forward to those first images from the surface, I am even more eager to see the first data sets revealing what is happening deep below our landing pads. The beauty of this mission is happening below the surface. Elysium Planitia is perfect.”
With November 26 just around the corner, the NASA Mars InSight mission at Elysium Planitia will be on the move soon and should be yielding some fascinating results.