NASA’s InSight Lander Has Returned Its First Image From The Surface Of Mars

InSight returned the image just minutes after landing. NASA/JPL-Caltech

Following a successful landing, NASA’s InSight spacecraft has returned its first image from the surface of Mars.

The landing occurred at 2.53pm EST today, with a play-by-play of the landing being returned to Earth by two small companion spacecraft that remained in space, called Marco-A and B.

And within minutes of the landing, InSight sent its first image back to Earth via those two mini-satellites. The image shows a region of Mars known as Elysium Planitia, where InSight touched down to begin a fascinating mission to study the interior of Mars.

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While the image doesn't reveal a huge amount, we can still see the horizon of Mars in the distance; InSight touched down in mid-afternoon local time on Mars. And we can also see how flat the region is, something NASA had planned for to make the landing as easy as possible.

The image is partially obscured by a dust cover, with debris having been kicked up during the rocket-powered landing. The lander will remove this dust cover soon, allowing clearer pictures to be taken of the surface.

You'd better get used to this view though, because InSight is not going to be roving around the surface. It is a stationary lander, designed to use a suite of instruments to try and look inside Mars, to tell us how this planet formed and evolved. So it won't be going anywhere else on the surface.

It will do this in a number of ways. One instrument will drill a so-called "mole" into the surface, taking temperature readings down to a depth of five meters (16 feet). This will tell us how active the core of Mars still is.

Here's the full image in all its glory. NASA/JPL-Caltech

Another instrument will monitor the wobble of the planet, telling us what the core is made of. And a third, a seismometer, will measure seismic waves in the ground that have been caused by meteorites hitting the planet or the contraction of the planet itself as it cools.

Using two cameras on board, InSight will deploy these instruments on the surface of Mars using a robotic arm, the first probe on another world ever to use an arm to deploy its own instruments. Which is, you know, pretty darn awesome.

The mission is set to last until at least November 2020, and by then we might have a rather more robust understanding of how rocky planets like Mars evolved. But for now, there's plenty of cause for celebration at NASA, as the agency celebrates their eighth successful Mars landing of all time.

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