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NASA Sending Spacecraft To Study The Interior Of Mars And Detect Marsquakes

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NASA will be sending the InSight lander to Mars to study the interior of the planet on May 5.

One of the main missions of InSight is to detect seismic activity on Mars, as no seismic activity has ever been detected on the planet before. Scientists are hoping to look below the surface of Mars to understand how the planet may have lost its magnetic field.

InSight Lander

For the first time in four decades, NASA will be exploring the seismology of a different world. InSight will have three instruments that will allow it to take a closer look at the interior of Mars. One of the instruments is a seismometer, which scientists are hoping can detect marsquakes.

InSight will measure the thickness and composition of Mars' crust, mantle, and core. It wants to find out whether the planet had plate tectonics at some point.

NASA previously tried to know what was going on under the surface of Mars by adding seismometers to its Viking landers. Both of the landers had bad luck with the seismometers -- it failed in one of the landers and the other didn't send a reliable signal.

Mars' Interior

InSight will also be equipped with a heat probe. Once it lands, the heat probe will drive a rod five meters into Mars through a tungsten hammer. Tungsten is used because of its toughness -- it is super dense and almost impossible to melt. The heat probe's job is to measure how much heat is escaping Mars, and how fast it is escaping.

Scientists are hoping to get a better idea of how much heat is escaping to figure out how much volcanic activity Mars had in its past, although researchers already have an idea about what makes up its mantle due to meteorites that have come from the planet.

Gathering how much heat the planet is losing along with the size of its mantle, scientists are able to determine how much heat comes from radioactive elements in Mars' mantle. The other source of heat is considered to be the interior of Mars which still hasn't cooled since it formed. This would allow them to estimate the past volcanic activity on Mars.

The InSight team thinks it will detect marsquakes. It will do this by using Doppler shifts in radio signals sent from Earth. Those signals can detect how much Mars wobbles in its rotation, showing the internal tug of its core and mantle. This would give researchers insight into the size of the core, its density, and whether it's still molten.

InSight is set to launch now but two years ago it was almost canceled as a leak was found in the vacuum of the seismometer. In order to fix the problem, the launch was pushed to 2018. 

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