Belgium involved in a new mission to Mars

12/06/2018

Last month, the American space agency NASA launched the InSight probe to Mars. One of its aims is to observe seismic activity on the red planet in order to unravel the mystery of the formation of telluric planets such as Earth.

The device, named Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight), launched on an Atlas V rocket from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, USA, on 5 May. The probe is due to travel about 485 million kilometres (301 million miles) and land on Martian soil on 26 November 2018. This will be the first NASA device to land on Mars since the vehicle Curiosity in 2012.

InSight will be able to collect data using three instruments: a seismometer, a device for accurately locating the probe, as Mars oscillates on its rotational axis, and a heat flow probe that can burrow down three to five feet into the Martian sub-soil.

The Royal Observatory of Belgium will be involved in analysing the data emitted by radio signals exchanged between Earth and the probe, so that it can track variations in the planet's rotations, which themselves reflect the structure of its interior. We will then know what the core of the planet Mars is made of. And whether it is solid or liquid.

These analyses will be led by Professor Véronique Dehant from the Royal Observatory of Belgium thanks to funding from the Belgian Federal Science Policy Office (Belspo), with the assistance of the European Space Agency's PRODEX programme.

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