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Science

Artist's Concept of InSight on Mars

InSight Will Take the 'Vital Signs' of Mars

InSight will study the deep interior of Mars, taking the planet's vital signs, its pulse and temperature. This makes InSight the first mission to give Mars a thorough checkup since the planet formed 4.5 billion years ago.

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 can only be found by sensing and studying its vital signs far below the surface.

Mars' Interior
Artist's rendition showing the inner structure of Mars. The topmost layer is known as the crust, underneath it is the mantle, which rests on a solid inner core.

Taking the Planet’s Pulse

The InSight lander carries a seismometer, SEIS, that listens to the pulse of Mars. The seismometer records the waves traveling through the interior structure of a planet. Studying seismic waves tells us what might be creating the waves. On Mars, scientists suspect that the culprits may be marsquakes, or meteorites striking the surface.

Taking the Planet's Temperature

InSight's heat flow probe, HP3, burrows deeper than any other scoops, drills or probes on Mars before it. It will investigate how much heat is still flowing out of Mars. Its observations will shed light on whether Earth and Mars are made of the same stuff, and provide a sneak peek into how the planet evolved.

Checking the Planet's Reflexes

Like Earth, Mars wobbles a little as it rotates around its axis. To study this, two radio antennas, part of the RISE instrument, track the location of the lander very precisely. This helps scientists test the planet's reflexes and tells them how the deep interior structure affects the planet's motion around the Sun.

A Rocky Planet Forms
As a rocky planet forms, the planet-forming material gathers in a process known as "accretion". This material then separates into layers as it cools, which is known as "differentiation". A fully formed planet slowly emerges, with an upper layer known as the crust, the mantle in the middle, and a solid iron core.

InSight Science Goals:

To uncover how a rocky body forms and evolves to become a planet by investigating the interior structure and composition of Mars. The mission will also determine the rate of Martian tectonic activity and meteorite impacts.

InSight Has Three Science Instruments

  • Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS)
    A SeismometerSEIS senses seismic waves to study the crust of Mars. Meteorites impacting the surface, magma moving at great depths, or movement along a fault can all cause seismic waves on Mars. Studying the crust of Mars with the seismometer tells scientists about the temperature, pressure and composition of the stuff that first formed the rocky planets.
  • Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3)
    A Heat Flow Probe HP3 burrows deeper than any other scoops, drills or probes on Mars before it. It will investigate how much heat is still flowing out of Mars. Its observations will shed light on whether Earth and Mars are made of the same stuff, and provide a sneak peek into how the planet evolved.
  • Rotation and Interior Structure (RISE)
    A Radio Science Experiment RISE measures the slightest changes in the location of the lander to reveal how Mars is moving in its orbit. These measurements provide information on the nature of Mars’s deep inner core. They uncover the depth at which Mars’ core becomes solid, and what other minerals, besides iron, may be present.

All of InSight's science tools are designed to help the lander look back in time, to when the rocky planets of the Solar System first formed. Their measurements are interrelated and help inform each other.