InSight will listen to beat the heart of Mars

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For the first time, humanity will stick its ear against the ground of Mars to listen to the tremors of its bowels. Listening inside Mars will help sort out the various theories of planet formation.

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A landing after six and a half months of travel and 480 million km traveled since its launch by NASA.

At 11h47 hours from California (20h47 in France) this Monday, the lander InSight penetrate the atmosphere of Mars to land in a large plain.

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On board is an instrument worth tens of millions of euros: a hypersensitive seismometer designed by the French space agency, Cnes.

A descent of six and a half minutes

This is the first time since 2012 that a machine will try to land on Mars, from the vehicle Curiosity NASA, the only one still active on the planet. Only the United States managed to put robots there. The USSR crashed several landers, just like the Europeans, just recently in 2016.

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“Landing on Mars is really, really difficult,” warned Thomas Zurbuchen, chief of the scientific directorate of NASA, the US space agency that approved the mission of nearly a billion dollars seven years ago.

The descent through the atmosphere will last six and a half minutes.

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Monday night we will live “the seven minutes of terror” “, says the boss of the Cnes, Jean-Yves Le Gall.

The role of seismometer and waves

The seismometer, composed in fact of six seismometers, will be placed directly on the ground and will listen to the smallest vibrations, in a perfect immobility, protected by a dome of protection.

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What will he hear? The shock waves of meteorites that smash regularly on Mars; earthquakes; the crackling of the layers, their deformations, the faults under the surface; even the attraction created by the little moon Phobos.

The gigantic Martian volcanoes have long since been extinguished, but “it is possible that we hear the movement of magma, very deeply,” said Sue Smrekar, deputy head of the scientific team.

The waves, crossing the layers, will be deformed, slowed or accelerated, and will emit like different music. They will help scientists to gradually draw an interior map of Mars and perhaps answer the following questions: is the core liquid or solid? What is the thickness and composition of the mantle and crust?


What differences between planets?

Virtually everything we know about the history of Earth’s formation and its internal composition comes from seismology.

But if the basic ingredients are the same, why is the Earth blue, Mercury an unbearable furnace, and Mars cold and red, with an atmosphere a hundred times less dense than Earth, and without plate tectonics?

Listening inside Mars will help sort out the various theories of planet formation.

An expected result at 9:04 pm

The interest of Mars, which is about half the size of the Earth, is that the absence of plate tectonics has preserved the original structure of the planet, unlike our planet.

If the landing goes well, the confirmation could arrive in near real time, including the eight minutes and seven seconds of Mars-Earth travel.

A “beep” expected at 9:04 pm French time and which will no doubt be greeted by a clamor Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, near Los Angeles, the control center of NASA.

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