Ongoing Mars probe

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InSight

Human spirit has always remained fascinated by the signs of solar system visible during night through sparkling stars across the skyline. Human intellect has always wanted to inquire about the beginning of these terrestrial planets and was inquisitive about their evolutionary process. Human curiosity knew no bounds and the advancement of science provided impetus to the urge to learn more about the entire planetary world.

It was determined by detailed scientific studies that about 4.5 billion years ago, the eight planets of our solar system were formed. All eight planets were formed from a clumpy disk of rock, ice and debris orbiting the young sun. However, the development of studies about planets currently mentions the distinct difference between the inner and outer planets. It states that the terrestrial planets (Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars) all have a dense, rocky structure, with only one able to support life. On the other hand, the Jovian planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune) are all primarily gas and swollen up to enormous sizes.

The pursuit of finding more about planetary world NASA got successful in landing its robotic exploratory laboratory InSight on the elusive planet Mars after it travelled for almost seven months through deep space. InSight, the acronym for “Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport,” was launched from Earth on 5 May, has to hit a “keyhole” at the top of Mars’ atmosphere that measures just 24km by 10km.

Landing robotic exploratory missions on Mars has been considered a very difficult task as two-thirds of such attempts have miserably failed. The reason for failure is that a probe is required to enter the atmosphere at six times the speed of a high-velocity bullet and then somehow has to slow to a controlled stop at the surface – all inside seven minutes. The landing strategy is needed to be perfect otherwise it has the potential of ending like the most recent efforts in 2016 undertaken by Europe that hopelessly failed slamming into the ground.

Selfie sent by InSight

There are striking similarities between Earth and Mars as was established after drilling beneath Mars’s surface. The heat flow within Mars could be compared to Earth’s and reveal that both were formed from the same substances. There were, however, lingering questions compelling scientists to probe the elusive planet and InSight is the latest attempt about it. The probe will be programmed to last for two Earth years – which is calculated a little over one Mars year. It may throw ample light on the factors responsible for the formation of the solar system.

InSight immediately went to work aiming to activate its solar panels before beginning the weeks-long process of setting instruments in place. Once InSight’s robotic arm has set out its equipment, including a seismometer which will monitor for marsquakes, it will drill 5m down into Mars’s crust, to assess the planet’s temperature. InSight will then begin to send data back to Earth.

It is expected that it will take some time before InSight deploys and calibrates its two main exploratory instruments: a burrowing heat probe and a suite of super-sensitive seismometers. This gear must be placed on the Martian surface by the lander’s robotic arm, and InSight team members want to make sure they get this crucial step. This is the first time that such step will be taken.

InSight will engage in “terraforming” the test-bed to resemble InSight’s actual environs on the Red Planet. The slow pace of work is the result of three such placements which would entail dropping a shield over the seismometer suite to insulate the instrument from wind and temperature swings that are feared to interfere with data collection and interpretation. It is estimated that this initial probe will take two to three months.

After completion of this task InSight will be ready to begin to hammer itself up to 16 feet (5 meters) below the surface and to calibrate both instruments properly. Once seismometers are ready they will be on the lookout for “marsquakes” caused by internal Martian rumblings and meteorite strikes. The heat probe, meanwhile, will gauge heat flow at different depths. InSight will also learn about the Martian core by measuring the slight wobbles in the planet’s axial tilt.

Scientists trust that these observations will reveal considerable data about the internal structure and composition of Mars. This information will also shed light on how rocky planets in general form and evolve. In the meanwhile InSight had sent back some information including a dust-speckled photo of its immediate surroundings. According to the image received the surrounding appears to be relatively flat and sandy without lots of big rocks or other impediments to deployment. Scientists are well aware of the composition of the structure of Earth and the probe to Mars will provide another angle on the evolution of a rocky planet.

Hoor Asrar Rauf has remained a swimming champion and is a budding entrepreneur

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