Well, fine, the Mars Curiosity rover isn’t vaporizing rocks out of lonely fury; it’s doing it out of scientific, well, curiosity–and it probably shouldn’t stop. But the Universe’s favorite Mars rover won’t be working alone up there forever; NASA just announced that they’re planning to send another rover up there in 2016, this time to probe the planet’s innards. Learn more about both developments after the jump.
First, what we’ve learned most recently from Curiosity, and what it’s learning from the insides of all those space rocks:
The Mars rover Curiosity zapped a rock scientists are now calling “Coronation” on Sunday (Aug. 19) to test an instrument that measures the composition of targets hit by its powerful laser beam.”Our team is both thrilled and working hard, looking at the results. After eight years building the instrument, it’s payoff time!”
Curiosity’s Chemical and Camera instrument, or ChemCam, fires a laser pulses that last just five one-billionths of a second but deliver more than a million watts of power, enough to turn solid rock into an ionized plasma. A trio of spectrometers in the tool then studies the sparks from the laser fire on 6,144 different wavelengths of ultraviolet, visible and infrared light to determine the composition of the vaporized rock.
As for our foreseeable future on Mars, we’ve already got another mission to look forward, and this time it’s one whose purpose is to teach us more about what’s going on inside of Mars’ great big belly.
The name of the mission: InSight, with a launch date of 2016. NASA director of Planetary Science Jim Green (who I’m assuming is a lost Vlogbrother) said that the mission will take us further into Mars’ interior than anyone’s ever been; “We’re really clueless about the interior,” said Green.
Expect another exciting (and, for the NASA flight controllers, nerve-wracking) landing around September of 2016, with initial takeoff taking place somewhere around March of that year.
Courtesy of NASA, here’s some more information on the instruments InSight will carry, followed by a video looking at its design:
SEIS: To capture Mars’ pulse, or its internal activity, InSight will carry a seismometer called SEIS to the surface of the Red Planet. SEIS will take precise measurements of quakes and other internal activity on Mars to better understand the planet’s history and structure.
HP3: To take Mars’ temperature, a key indicator of planetary evolution, InSight will deploy a heat flow probe on the surface of Mars. The instrument, known as HP3, will hammer five meters into the Martian subsurface, deeper than all previous arms, scoops, drills and probes, to learn how much heat is coming from Mars’ interior and reveal the planet’s thermal history.
RISE: To track Mars’ reflexes, or the way it wobbles when it is pulled by the sun, an investigation called RISE will precisely measure the Doppler shift and ranging of radio communications sent between the InSight lander and Earth. By tracking wobble, scientists can determine the distribution of the Red Planet’s internal structures and better understand how the planet is built.
Cameras: Insight will incorporate a camera, similar to the “Navcam” engineering cameras onboard the Mars Exploration Rovers (MER), mounted on the arm of the lander that will serve to capture black and white images of the instruments on the lander’s deck and a 3-D view of the ground where the seismometer and heat flow probe will be placed. It will then be used to help engineers and scientists guide the deployment of the instruments to the ground. With a 45-degree field of view, the camera will also provide a panoramic view of the terrain surrounding the landing site.