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First Instruments from NASA’s InSight Gets Placed on Mars

In the coming days, the InSight team will work on levelling the seismometer. The first seismometer science data will flow back to Earth

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NASA, Insight, Martian Wind
This is an illustration showing a simulated view of NASA's InSight lander about to land on the surface of Mars. This view shows the underside of the spacecraft. VOA

NASA’s InSight lander has deployed its first instrument onto the surface of Mars, marking the first time a seismometer had ever been placed onto the surface of another planet.

New images from the lander showed the seismometer on the ground, its copper-coloured covering faintly illuminated in the Martian dusk, according to the InSight team on Thursday.

“InSight’s timetable of activities on Mars has gone better than we hoped,” said InSight Project Manager Tom Hoffman, who is based at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, Xinhua reported.

“Getting the seismometer safely on the ground is an awesome Christmas present,” he said.

The InSight team has been working carefully toward deploying its two dedicated science instruments onto Martian soil since landing on Mars on November 26. Besides the seismometer, also known as the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS), the other one is the heat probe, known as the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Probe (HP3).

InSight, Mars, NASA, Martian Wind
InSight will study the interior of Mars, and will explore valuable science as NASA prepares to send astronauts to the Moon and later to Mars. VOA

Meanwhile, the Rotation and Interior Structure Experiment (RISE), which does not have its own separate instrument, has already begun using InSight’s radio connection with Earth to collect preliminary data on the planet’s core, said the InSight team.

To ensure the successful deployment of the instruments, engineers had to verify the robotic arm that picks up and places InSight’s instruments onto the Martian surface was working properly.

They also had to analyze images of the Martian terrain around the lander to figure out the best places to deploy the instruments, said the team.

InSight engineers sent up the commands to the spacecraft on Tuesday, and the seismometer was gently placed onto the ground by the arm in front of the lander on Wednesday, according to the team.

“Seismometer deployment is as important as landing InSight on Mars,” said InSight Principal Investigator Bruce Banerdt.

NASA, Insight, Martian Wind
NASA’s InSight spacecraft, destined for the Elysium Planitia region in Mars’ northern hemisphere, undergoes launch preparations at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. VOA

“The seismometer is the highest-priority instrument on InSight. We need it in order to complete about three-quarters of our science objectives,” he said.

The seismometer allows scientists to peer into the Martian interior by studying ground motion, also known as marsquakes. By analyzing how seismic waves pass through the layers of the planet, scientists can deduce the depth and composition of these layers.

Also Read: NASA Photographs Mars InSight Lander From Space

In the coming days, the InSight team will work on levelling the seismometer. The first seismometer science data will flow back to Earth after the seismometer is in the right position, said the team.

The heat probe is scheduled to be placed onto the Martian surface by late January, on the east side of the lander’s work space, according to the team.

InSight landed safely on Mars on November 26, kicking off a two-year mission to explore the deep interior of the Red Planet. (VOA)

Next Story

Vikram Lander Spotted On Moon

The Vikram moonlander was sent by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) aboard the Chandraayan 2 that orbited the moon

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India’s Vikram lunar lander
India’s Vikram lunar lander, which crashed on its final approach to the Moon’s surface in September, has been found. Pixabay

BY ARUL LOUIS 

Shanmuga Subramanian, the eagle-eyed citizen space scientist who found Vikram moonlander said on Tuesday that he took spotting it as a challenge when NASA couldn’t.

He said in an email interview to IANS: “It was something challenging as even NASA can’t find out so why can’t we try out? And that’s the thought that led me to search for Vikram lander.”

Subramanian, who works as an information technology architect, in his spare time looked through the images taken by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) camera on September 17 and spotted a debris from Vikram.

Those images were taken when the light during moon’s dusk was very harsh at the place where the moonlander crashed and the long shadows made the hunt for Vikram difficult, NASA and LRO said at that time.

LRO Project Scientist Noah Petro, to whom Subramanian emailed his finding, told IANS: “The story of this really amazing individual (who) found it, helped us find it, is really awesome.”

The Vikram moonlander was sent by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) aboard the Chandraayan 2 that orbited the moon.

Vikram was launched from Chandrayaan on September 6 in hopes of making a safelanding and exploring the moon’s surface. However, it lost contact with ISRO minutes before the scheduled landing and crashed.

Vikram Moon Lander
A Moon landing is the arrival of a spacecraft on the surface of the Moon. Pixabay

Petro said: “This is the wonderful thing about our data. We released it for the world and anyone can use and he used it to make this discovery.”

Subramanian suggested a crowd-sourced citizen scientist movement to help space organisations.

“LRO’s data is a treasure trove. I would suggest students and others to help out NASA, ISRO and other space organisations by building a good database of LRO images with features like comparison etc.,” Subramanian told IANS.

“Currently we have to compare it manually (and I) wish someone can do more on that, with NASA’s scientists time crunched for their Moon missions,” he added.

Asked how he got interested, Subramanian said: “Space exploration is nothing new for me as I have been interested in space right from the scratch and watched ISRO’s rocket launches closely even managed to capture some of it on my YouTube channel.

“I don’t think Vikram lander would have made a such impact on the minds of the Indian public if it had landed successfully (but) since it was lost there was a lot of discussion in public forums as well as on my Facebook regarding what malfunctioned etc.

“The crash landing of Vikram made more people interested in it and it also got eventually hooked me, which lead to me searching NASA’s pic for nearly some 4-5 hours every night.”

Subramanian spoke of the social media world of space enthusiasts where intense discussions were taking place about the mystery of Vikram and which helped his quest.

“Initially there was lot of false positives I got (that were) corrected by Twitterati and one of the tweets led to me a Reddit forum where they had the exact intended landing location and the path of Vikram,” he said.

Vikram on moon
The Moon is an astronomical body that orbits the Earth as its only permanent natural satellite. Pixabay

On being able to narrow down the area for his search, he said: “Though there was no data available about the path of Vikram lander, I eventually concluded it would have come from North Pole as one of the tweets from ‘cgbassa’ said Vikram has crossed the North Pole of the moon. And from ISRO’s live images, I made out it would have stopped short of around 1 km from the landing spot so it eventually led to me searching around 2 sq km around the landing area.”

That tweet was from CG Bassa, an astronomer with Astron, the Dutch radio astronomy institute.

ALSO READ: Nations and their Moon Missions

After better pictures came from the LRO’s pass over the area in October and on November 11, when the light conditions improved, the LRO camera team scoured the area surrounding the spot where Subramanian had spotted a debris and found the impact spot of Vikram’s crash and other debris, the ASU said.

The impact site is located at 70.8810AoS, 22.7840AoE, at an elevation of 834 metres, it added. (IANS)