Taking the Perfect Selfie: Another Win for NASA’s Lander

NASA’s InSight, which landed on Mars on November 26, took its first selfie yesterday, displaying its solar panel and the deck where its science instruments, weather sensors and the UHF antenna are located. The Martian lander has been snapping photos for some time now, but these are the first full images of InSight itself.

To take the selfie, the lander extended its robotic arm and, using the Instrument Deployment Camera, created the mosaic in which 11 images that are later stitched together (this technique was also used by Curiosity). Also, for the first time, researches saw the images of what will be InSight’s workspace – a four-by-two-meter “crescent of terrain” in front of the spacecraft. That mosaic is composed of 52 images.

In the next few weeks, the mission team on Earth will calculate exactly where in the workspace the instruments will be planted. They will program InSight’s robotic arm to set its seismometer, the SEIS (Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure), as well as its heat-flow probe, the HP (Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package). Because both work at ground level, scientists must choose places that avoid rocks larger than 1.3 cm.

"The near-absence of rocks, hills and holes means it'll be extremely safe for our instruments," said InSight's Principal Investigator Bruce Banerdt of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "This might seem like a pretty plain piece of ground if it weren't on Mars, but we're glad to see that."

The Elysium Planitia field on Mars was chosen carefully because it was virtually free of rocks, elevations and holes. The landing exceeded the researchers’ expectations, because InSight landed in a depression created earlier by a meteor and now filled with sand, which should help InSight drill down to five meters below the surface, as intended.

Last week, InSight captured the first-ever sounds of Martian winds. "Capturing this audio was an unplanned treat," said Banerdt. "But one of the things our mission is dedicated to is measuring motion on Mars, and naturally that includes motion caused by sound waves."

The lander seems to be providing more information about Mars than humanity has ever been able to collect. What will InSight achieve in the coming weeks? Researchers and the scientific community globally are anticipating the results of its scientific inquiries.

Photo credit: NASA

Jessica Zeitz