UF researcher on team selected by NASA to put seismometer on Mars
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — NASA’s investigations on Mars will soon extend below the planet’s surface when an international team including a University of Florida geologist sends a seismometer there for the first time to study its deep interior.
UF geological sciences assistant professor Mark Panning is part of InSight, which is short for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport, a mission selected by NASA on Aug. 20. He said once the seismometer lands on Mars in September 2016, it will be used to investigate whether the core of Mars is solid or liquid and why it lacks the moving tectonic plates found on Earth.
In addition, the sub-surface temperature will be studied using a probe that will dig 15 feet below the surface, Panning said. Large-scale motions of the planet will be studied by careful analysis of the radio communications between Earth and the lander. Comparing Mars to Earth using this new information will help scientists understand how planets form and evolve.
Panning’s role during the 18 months of planning for the mission was to demonstrate by testing here on Earth that analyzing data from a single seismic station would provide a good one-dimensional model of Mars.
“A lot of the seismic work we do here on Earth relies on networks of many seismometers,” he said. “While we hope to someday have seismic networks on Mars, we’re thrilled to have a chance to get our first real shot to learn details about the interior of another planet beyond the Earth and moon, and we can do a lot with a single seismic station.”
Led by W. Bruce Banerdt at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., InSight’s scientific team includes U.S. and international co-investigators from universities, industry and government agencies. Instruments will be contributed by the French space agency Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales and the German Aerospace Center.
Costs were minimized by developing the mission based on spacecraft technology NASA used for its highly successful 2007 Phoenix lander mission that determined water existed near the surface in the Martian polar regions. Excluding the launch vehicle and related services, the cost of the mission cannot exceed $425 million in 2010 dollars.
More details about the mission can be seen at http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=RSTYvwodKO0.