The InSight mission: Beneath the surface of Mars

Credit: NASA

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Mission status: Final preparations before launch

Previous missions to Mars have examined the red planet's outer layers, studying its atmosphere and mapping its rocky terrain. But our planetary neighbour may still be hiding cosmic secrets deep beneath its surface.

NASA's InSight mission is the first to explore the heart of Mars. The lander will be launching from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on board an Atlas V rocket.  It is equipped with sensitive instruments that will help scientists learn more about the formation of rocky planets 4.5 billion years ago.

Based on Phoenix Mars lander technology, InSight carries a probe that will burrow three to five metres beneath the planet's surface.

InSight Mission - Animation of Spacecraft. (Credit: NASA)

The lander will collect data about these key factors:

Canada's role in the mission

Dr. Catherine Johnson, co-investigator on the InSight science team and professor of geophysics at the University of British Columbia (UBC) (left); and UBC graduate student Anna Mittelholz (right). (Credit: UBC/Chuck Kosman)

The Canadian Space Agency has awarded a grant to Dr. Catherine Johnson, InSight’s Co-Investigator, allowing for the participation of UBC graduate student Anna Mittelholz. Together, they play an important role on the mission’s international science team.

Their research will model the electrical conductivity of Martian rock, determine its water content, and ultimately shed light on the planet's interior structure and earliest history. Together with atmospheric information gathered by NASA's MAVEN satellite, they will use InSight's seismic, magnetic, and environmental data to track daily variations in Mars's magnetic field.

Earth and Mars were created through similar processes of planetary formation, but the red planet’s size makes it especially likely to provide a better glimpse into its past.

Earth has greater internal energy because it is much larger than Mars, and so continuously recycles its rocks. This means that it has erased many traces of its earliest moments.

Because Mars cooled so much faster than our planet, it locked in physical clues that scientists can identify to learn about our solar system’s origins.

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