In case you hadn’t noticed, Mars is a pretty big deal these days. The Red Planet is our most similar neighbor and, unlike any other planet in our Solar System, we’ve explored a large chunk of it with multiple landers and rovers. It will almost certainly be the first planet that humans set foot on (besides Earth of course) and it may very well happen within our lifetimes. That being said, there’s still a ton we don’t know about the planet, and more specifically what its insides look like. Next year, we’ll get our first glimpse.
NASA’s InSight lander is slated to launch in just over a month, and once it completes its long journey to Mars it will be the first piece of NASA hardware to send back data on the interior makeup of the planet. It promises to be a mission of many “firsts,” and NASA just released a nice, in-depth rundown of what InSight will do.
InSight — which stands for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, in case you were wondering — is equipped with sensitive seismometers that will detect vibrations from within Mars. These “marsquakes” are incredibly important to InSight’s research because it will help paint a picture of what lies beneath the surface.
“A seismometer is like a camera that takes an image of a planet’s interior,” Bruce Banerdt of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and principal investigator of InSight explains. “It’s a bit like taking a CT scan of a planet.”
So what will that “CT Scan” reveal? Scientists aren’t totally sure. As the lander gathers more and more information over time, thanks to continued quaking and even the impacts of other objects on the Martian surface, the “snapshot” of its insides will grow more and more clear. Ultimately, the team hopes to be able to explain the layers that make up the planet and break them down in the same way that we understand the layers of Earth.