Today the landing of InSight, the first space mission that will study the interior of Mars to find out if it is completely dead or still harbors some activity in its entrails.
The ship of the POT will enter the fine Martian atmosphere at 20,000 kilometers per hour to enter the so-called "seven minutes of terror", the time in which you must slow down enough to perch on the surface of Mars at the speed of a person walking fast. The lander weighs 360 kilos, which means it can not use the airbag system used by the robots Spirit Y Opportunity, lighter. The ship will use friction with the Martian gas sheath to slow down to 1,500 kilometers per hour. When it is about 12 kilometers from the surface it will deploy the parachute. At 1,000 meters, the parachute will detach and the radar and an artificial intelligence system will enter into operation, using its data to control the intensity of 12 retro-propellers to perform the last braking phase up to eight kilometers per hour. The landing is scheduled for 20:54 today, Spanish peninsular time, and the first radio signal from the surface of the red planet will take eight minutes to reach the Earth.
The entire landing process consists of "half a million lines of programming code, any system that does not work or does it at the wrong time can spoil the mission", highlights Jorge Pla-García, astrophysicist at the Center for Astrobiology (CAB) and operator of the meteorological station on board the mission, which has been manufactured in Spain.
InSight will rest on the Elysium plain, possibly the most boring place on the Martian surface: flat, dusty, with hardly any geographical features, but very safe for landing and ideal for the main objective of the mission. About 40 days after landing a robotic arm will deposit one of the two main instruments of the mission on the ground: a seismometer "whose pendulum is capable of detecting movements of one hundred billionth of a meter", explains Pla-García. This instrument will be the first in history capable of detecting seismic movements -martemotos- and also meteorite impacts kilometers away.
The second instrument is nicknamed the mole: a hammer that will penetrate up to five meters into the Martian soil, leaving temperature sensors in its path. With these instruments you can find out if Mars is completely dead from the geological point of view or still conserves some geological and thermal life. This mission can clarify the dimensions of the crust, mantle and core of the planet, which is rocky like Earth. It is possible that the outer layers of the core made of molten iron have solidified, which in turn would have weakened the magnetic field and would have allowed the solar wind to take away much of the planet's atmosphere, drastically reducing the chances that it could have life on the surface.
The landing zone "is perfect for swirls and dust storms"
"We know that in the past there was great volcanic activity for long periods of time, in fact Mars has the largest volcanoes in the Solar System, some higher than Everest", explains Alberto González-Fairén, CAB researcher, and University Cornell (USA). "Being smaller than Earth, which implies a much greater surface-to-volume ratio, Mars cooled much faster, and any kind of geological activity that could have taken place gradually ceased. InSight it will tell us if there is still some residual energy left, and when it left Mars to be active, "he explains.
The landing point of InSight It is perfect for one more reason. One of the objectives of the weather station on board the ship is to know when there is less wind and more reliable seismic measurements can be taken. "This area is perfect for swirls, which reach up to 40 kilometers per hour, and storms, which can reach 120 kilometers per hour, because unlike in the area where the Curiosity, inside a crater, this is a totally unprotected area ", explains Pla-García. After today's landing it will be the first time that there are two meteorological instruments deployed on Mars (Insight Y Curiosity) from the probes Viking of the 70s. Both instruments have been developed in Spain.