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IntroductionNASA's Mars InSight lander is designed to probe deep into the Red Planet in search of marsquakes, secrets about the planet's core and much more. This isn't the first lander to Mars, but it will be the first to dig so deep in search of scientific answers.
But there are some details about InSight that might surprise you. Here are 10 unexpected facts about NASA's InSight Mars lander to ponder.
FIRST STOP: InSight will look inside Mars
It's the first to peer inside Mars.Slide 2 of 21
It's the first to peer inside Mars.Our knowledge of Mars is mostly skin-deep. From the ground, NASA's Curiosity and Opportunity rovers take pictures of the surroundings; sometimes, Curiosity collected samples for further analysis. Curiosity can also drill holes, but it can do so only on the topsoil of Mars. Meanwhile, the Red Planet is under constant scrutiny by spacecraft above, with orbiters taking high-resolution pictures of its surface or looking at its atmosphere.
The goal of InSight isn't to roam around the planet, but to stay still. That's so it can carefully measure properties of the Martian interior. This includes seismic activity (from marsquakes and meteorite strikes), temperature (through a heat flow experiment) and the size and shape of its core (through analyzing wobbles in the planet as it orbits the sun.) It's all in InSight's name. The moniker is short for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport.
NEXT: It's about more than just Mars.Slide 3 of 21
It will teach us about other planets.Slide 4 of 21
It will teach us about other planets.The Kepler space telescope showed us that terrestrial planets (such as Earths or slightly larger "super-Earths") are common in the universe. It's hard to study these planets from so far away, so looking at Mars helps us makes predictions about their composition and atmosphere. Even in our own solar system, looking at terrestrial planets helps us understand why they all turned out so different. For example, why does Earth have so much water on it, while the Martian water has disappeared?
"When it comes to rocky planets, we've only studied one in great detail: Earth. By comparing Earth's interior to that of Mars, InSight's team hopes to better understand our solar system," NASA said in a statement. "What they learn might even aid the search for Earth-like exoplanets, narrowing down which ones might be able to support life. So while InSight is a Mars mission, it's also more than a Mars mission."
NEXT: InSight might find marsquakes!Slide 5 of 21
InSight might find marsquakes.Slide 6 of 21
InSight might find marsquakes.As mentioned earlier, one of InSight's goals is to detect marsquakes — or seismic activity. Other missions tried to do this, but failed. NASA sent two spacecraft called Viking 1 and Viking 2 to the surface in 1976. They both had seismometers on board, but the seismometers were on top of the spacecraft. Because the instruments swayed in the wind, their data wasn't very reliable.
Earth's quakes are mostly due to tectonic plate activity, but on Mars, scientists expect quakes would arise from volcanism, cracks in the crust or meteorite impacts. "Each marsquake would be like a flashbulb that illuminates the structure of the planet's interior," NASA stated. "By studying how seismic waves pass through the different layers of the planet (the crust, mantle and core), scientists can deduce the depths of these layers and what they're made of. In this way, seismology is like taking an X-ray of the interior of Mars."
NEXT: NASA will track InSight from EarthSlide 7 of 21
NASA antennas will track InSight from Earth.Slide 8 of 21