A “mole” has started to burrow into the ground on the surface of Mars. It is the first-ever interplanetary mole and is purely mechanical, but has a very important role in the study of the red planet.
The mole is one of the key instruments incorporated in NASA’s InSight mission, which landed on Mars in November. Batteries made by Joplin, Missouri-based EaglePicher Technologies, power the NASA InSight Mars Lander, which has begun its study of the interior of Mars, with the aim of helping scientists understand how the planet formed. The lander will listen for tremors or “marsquakes” and collect data that will be pieced together in a map of the interior of the red planet.
The mole will be the first robotic instrument to measure how heat flows through another planet, a crucial measurement that will help scientists understand how Mars got to be the way it is.
“Unlike, say, a camera, which we’ve flown hundreds on various missions, there hasn’t been anything like the mole before,” said Troy Hudson, an instrument systems engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).
InSight placed the mole, which is formally known as the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Probe, on the Martian surface about two weeks ago. But the instrument itself has been in the works for nearly a decade.
“Getting the mole into the regolith and seeing how it behaves is also going to be exciting from an engineering standpoint, as well as from a science standpoint,” Sue Smrekar, deputy principal investigator for the InSight mission and a geophysicist at JPL. “It’s just going to be exciting to actually get under the subsurface.”
You can check out our full coverage of the landing here.
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