Nasa’s latest Mars craft

unprecedented landing seismic mission

Nasa’s first spacecraft, designed to study the inner workings of another planet, is speeding toward a Monday touchdown on a vast, arid plain on Mars, carrying instruments to detect planetary heat and seismic rumblings never seen anywhere else in the world.

After a six-month trip through deep space that carried it 301 million miles, the robotic lander InSight was poised to land on the dusty, rock-strewn surface of Mars at around 8 p.m. GMT (548 million kilometres).

The inSight will scream into the thin Martian atmosphere at 12,000 mph if everything goes according to plan (19,310 kilometres per hour). By the time it falls, InSight will have travelled 77 miles through the pink Martian skies in 6 1/2 minutes, flying at only 5 mph (8 kph) due to friction, the deployment of a massive parachute, and retro rockets.

Scientists hope to see a dozen to 100 marsquakes throughout the mission, which will provide data to help them figure out the depth, density, and composition of the planet’s core, the rocky mantle that surrounds it, and the planet’s outermost layer, the crust. Meanwhile, a radio transmitter will transmit signals that will measure Mars’ little rotational wobble in order to determine the size of the planet’s core and whether it is still molten. According to Nasa officials, the principal instruments will be deployed and placed into service in two to three months.

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