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NASA’s InSight lands on Mars to peer deep into planet’s interior
「洞察號」平安降落火星 探索行星深處之謎

Project manager Tom Hoffman points to the first picture sent back to Earth from Mars by the spaceship InSight at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, US, on Monday.


NASA’s InSight spacecraft, the first robotic lander designed to study the deep interior of a distant world, touched down safely on the surface of Mars on Monday with instruments to detect planetary seismic rumblings never measured anywhere but Earth.

Engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) near Los Angeles burst into cheers, applause and hugs as they received signals confirming InSight’s arrival on Martian soil — a vast, barren plain near the planet’s equator — shortly before 3pm EST. Minutes later, JPL controllers received a fuzzy “selfie” photograph of the probe’s new surroundings on the Red Planet, showing the edge of one lander leg beside a rock.

InSight’s descent and landing, consisting of about 1,000 individual steps that had to be flawlessly executed to achieve success, capped a six-month journey of 548 million km from Earth. The spacecraft was launched from California in May on its nearly US$1 billion mission. It will spend the next 24 months — about one Martian year — collecting a wealth of data to unlock mysteries about how Mars formed and, by extension, the origins of the Earth and other rocky planets of the inner solar system.

“The reason why we’re digging into Mars is to better understand not just Mars, but the Earth itself,” said JPL’s Bruce Banerdt, InSight’s principal investigator. A central question is why Mars, once a relatively warm, wet planet, evolved so differently from Earth into a mostly dry, desolate and cold world, devoid of life. The answers are believed to have something to do with the as-yet unexplained absence, since Mars’ ancient past, of either a magnetic field or tectonic activity, said NASA’s chief scientist James Green. While Earth’s tectonics and other forces have erased most evidence of its early history, much of Mars — about half the size of Earth — has seemingly remained largely static, creating a geologic time machine for scientists, Green said.


1. seismic adj.

地震的(di4 zhen4 de5)

2. consist of phr.

組成 (zu3 cheng2)

3. magnetic field phr.

磁場 (ci2 chang3)

4. tectonic activity phr.

板塊活動 (ban3 kuai4 huo2 dong4)

5. static adj.

靜止 (jing4 zhi3)

6. thermal adj.

熱能的 (re4 neng2 de5)

InSight’s name is short for Interior Exploration Using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport. Its primary instrument is a French-built seismometer, designed to record the slightest vibrations from “marsquakes” and meteor impacts around the planet. The device, to be placed on the surface by the lander’s robot arm, is so sensitive it can measure a seismic wave just one half the radius of a hydrogen atom. Scientists expect to see a dozen to 100 marsquakes during the mission, producing data to help them deduce the depth, density and composition of the planet’s core, the rocky mantle surrounding it, and the outermost layer, the crust.

A second instrument, furnished by Germany’s space agency, consists of a drill to burrow as much as 5m underground, pulling behind it a rope-like thermal probe to measure heat flowing from inside the planet. A radio transmitter will send back signals tracking Mars’ subtle rotational wobble to reveal the size of the planet’s core and possibly whether it remains molten.

The landing data and initial photograph were relayed to Earth from two briefcase-sized satellites that were launched along with InSight and were flying past Mars as it reached its destination.




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