Four days after its epic touchdown on the red planet, NASA’s InSight Mars lander has snagged the clearest view of its new home yet.
On the day of its epic Mars landing, the trailblazing spacecraft — the first one ever sent to investigate what goes on under the red planet’s crust — beamed back a somewhat fuzzy photo of the touchdown site at Elysium Planitia, as reported by the Inquisitr at the time.
Since then, InSight has had some time to perk up after the “seven minutes of terror” that sent it plunging through the Martian atmosphere. After successfully deploying its solar arrays and getting the chance to charge its batteries, the Mars lander was able to take a better look at its surroundings and snapped a fresh photo of the landing site.
Captured on November 30, the new Mars photo is the first one to be taken after InSight flipped open the lens cover on its camera, NASA announced yesterday. The snapshot shows a fisheye view of the touchdown location, unveiling the dusty terrain at Elysium Planitia with more clarity than ever before.
“Higher-resolution images are expected to begin arriving over the coming days, after InSight releases the clear-plastic dust covers that kept the optics of the spacecraft’s two cameras safe during landing,” space agency officials said in a statement.
Steadily easing into my workflow. It’s been a busy few days and now, a new picture of Mars without the camera lens cover. Plus, a new view from my robotic arm camera. Read: https://t.co/5qCjNVZaRs
— NASAInSight (@NASAInSight) December 1, 2018
This latest photo reveals more clues about the alien location where InSight will be spending the next two years, showing that the spacecraft has landed in “a large sandbox.”
According to the mission team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, this is terrific news. As the Inquisitr previously reported, NASA picked Elysium Planitia as the landing site for the InSight spacecraft because the large equatorial plain couldn’t be more “vanilla.”
“The science team had been hoping to land in a sandy area with few rocks since we chose the landing site, so we couldn’t be happier,” said Tom Hoffman, InSight project manager at JPL.
Despite several dust clumps still visible on the camera’s lens, this new photo from Mars confirms that the InSight lander has had the fortune of ending up in a shallow impact crater filled with dust and sand, also known as a “hollow.” This will make things a lot easier when the moment comes for the spacecraft to deploy its two mains instruments — the ultra-sensitive SEIS seismometer and the HP3 heat-flow probe.
Colloquially called “the mole,” the thermal probe is designed to burrow 16 feet underground and take the red planet’s pulse, per a previous report from the Inquisitr. Meanwhile, the seismometer will be actively listening for marsquakes and measuring the seismic waves that ripple through Mars’ deep interior.
“There are no landing pads or runways on Mars, so coming down in an area that is basically a large sandbox without any large rocks should make instrument deployment easier and provide a great place for our mole to start burrowing,” explained Hoffman.
The new data also revealed that InSight has landed at a slight inclination, touching down on a small slope with a four-degree tilt. However, this is no cause for concern, assures the JPL. The spacecraft was built to operate on both smooth and titled surfaces and can work just fine at inclination angles of up to 15 degrees.
To get a better sense of what InSight’s new home looks like, the German Aerospace Center (DLR) — which provided the HP3 heat probe — has created an animated flyover of Elysium Planitia. The video, available below, was put together from data and images taken by the Mars Express Orbiter, which has been circling the red planet for 15 years.