In Review

Nasa InSight: Mars rover hunts for answers on Earth’s formation

The spacecraft will lift off tomorrow on a six-month journey to the red planet

Nasa is gearing up for the launch of its first Mars rover in six years, which will be sent into orbit tomorrow. 

The new InSight rover will make the six-month journey aboard the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, which is due to lift off from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California at 12:05 BST, says Space.com.

InSight, which stands for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport, is due to land just above the northern side of the Martian equator on 26 November, the website says. 

Once the vehicle touches down, the rover will begin a two-year mission to gather information on earthquakes (also referred to as Mars-quakes) in order to understand why the red planet’s geography is different from the Earth’s, The Guardian reports. 

Scientists claim that billions of years of earthquakes have wiped out most of the evidence of the Earth’s formation, the newspaper reports. This makes it difficult to establish how the planet went from a hostile environment to one that can support life.

Scientists believe that Mars’s seismic activity has been “relatively static” over the past three billion years, Reuters reports, making it a “geologic time machine” that could hold the answers to the Earth’s formation. 

To measure the seismic activity on the red planet, InSight uses a seismometer developed by the French space agency Cnes. The news site says that the instrument is so sensitive it can detect Mars-quakes on the other side of the planet from where the reading is taking place.

Nasa hopes to gather information on 100 Mars-quakes over the two-year mission. Many of these will have a magnitude of 6.0. 

To put it into perspective, an earthquake of that magnitude would be enough to cause “considerable damage” to buildings, the Los Angeles Times says. Earthquakes that cause major damage are rated between 7.0 and 8.0.

The InSight mission is Nasa’s first Mars rover launch since the Curiosity vehicle landed on the red planet in 2012. Curiosity continues to operate on Mars, where it studies the minerals that cover the plant’s surface.

The US space agency is giving fans the opportunity to watch tomorrow’s launch through livestream video. This kicks off at 11:30 BST on Nasa’s website

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