Hot on the heels of the landing of the Curiosity Rover, NASA has announced plans to send another mission to Mars in 2016, and it has a very strong grounding in geophysics. The mission, known as ‘InSight’, will focus on the internal structure and thermal nature of the planet. The lander will have two main instruments, a seismometer, which will be used to measure seismic activity (Marsquakes) and a heat flow probe capable of drilling down approximately 5 metres to obtain long term measurements of heat flow.
One of the big scientific questions around Mars is whether it has any sort of plate tectonics and if not, why not? The seismometer will measure any Marsquakes that occur and these details can then be used to identify any structures that may be similar to the plates that exist on the surface of the Earth. The other major question is whether the core of Mars is solid or liquid, which will be investigated by measuring the amount of heat released at or near the surface over at least one year. There are also plans to use data from the seismometer to help educate school students about Mars and planetary sciences, similar to RSES’s own Seismometers in Schools program.
This is another exciting development in our exploration of Mars, which is both similar and very different to Earth. However, quite selfishly I think they are ignoring the most interested part of a planet, its mantle; perhaps a future lander will get that job.
For more information head over to the mission website.