Mars InSight Lander Touches Down Today — Catch It Live!

This is a wonderful simulation of today’s landing. I can’t help but get all emotional watching it. Keep these images in mind when InSight is about to touch down on the Red Planet this afternoon.

(UPDATED below) Today at about 2 p.m. Central Time (3 p.m. Eastern; 1 p.m. Mountain and noon Pacific), NASA’s InSight lander is scheduled to touch down in Elysium Planitia on Mars. The landing sight is a flat, smooth plain free of rocks or other landforms that might pose a hazard to the probe. The region’s low elevation also means thicker air (more atmosphere) for a safer landing. Located 4.5° north of the equator, InSight won’t be far from the Curiosity rover 373 miles (600 km) to the south in Gale Crater.

Elysium Planitia, a flat-smooth plain just north of the equator makes for the perfect location from which to study the deep Martian interior. Skies are clear after summer’s big dust storm. The probe is the 8th to successfully land on Mars. NASA

You can follow the landing on Twitter at @NASA and @NASAInSight for #MarsLanding news. News briefings and launch commentary will be streamed on NASA and Live landing commentary runs from 1-2:30 p.m. Central Time. It will take about six minutes for InSight to land.

Update: Success!! The Mars InSight landing went perfectly. This is the first photo of the site taken through a wide-angle lens. Lots of Martian dust blew up during the landing and spotted the temporary dust filter. NASA

The lander’s name neatly describes the mission’s purpose: probe below the surface of Mars using temperature sensors and a seismometer to provide insight into how Mars formed and by extension, how all the other terrestrial planets formed. Once the dust from landing settles in about 15 minutes, the solar array motors warm up and and unfurl the solar panels. Solar cells will provide the power to run the probe’s instruments during its expected mission lifetime of 728 days or nearly 2 years.

Satellites in orbit about Mars, two trailing CubeSats and other methods will be used to track InSight during its descent and landing on Mars today. Lockheed Martin

Next, the lander will take a test wide-angle photo then power down into “sleep mode” for the cold night ahead. Over the next few weeks, the science instruments will be deployed as data-gathering gets underway. For a more in-depth timeline on surface operations, click here.

Mars is presently 90.4 million miles from Earth, so it takes a radio signal traveling at the speed of light 8 minutes to arrive at mission control. As the InSight lander descends into Mars’ atmosphere, it will broadcast simple radio signals called “tones” back to Earth. Because the tones shift in frequency depending on the probe’s descent into the atmosphere, engineers will be able to interpret key events in the landing sequence such as when the parachute opens and the lander suddenly slows down.

Two briefcase-sized spacecraft are flying behind InSight and will attempt to relay its signals to Earth. These mini-satellites called CubeSats will transmit the whole story as the landing unfolds including an image from InSight of the Martian surface right after the lander touches down. Exciting!

9 Responses

  1. Edward M. Boll

    I finally saw Mars again. It had been very cloudy. Venus is like a small Moon, very brilliant and looking like an over sized star. Hope observers will catch comets 38 and 64 soon before they fade out. V1 is now gone from view. 64 is surprisingly bright still a possible sight in large binoculars. The remnant of S3 was recovered by Gonzales.

    1. astrobob

      Thanks for sharing your observations. I finally got a good look and photos of 46P tonight. Very diffuse in 10×50 binoculars and ~30 arc minutes across. Even though it’s mag. 6, it doesn’t appear as bright as I thought it might. In my 10-inch scope I made out a small, central brightening.

  2. Brian Rajala

    Astro Bob, I saw your retirement announcement.

    Say it ain’t so!

    I thoroughly enjoy and appreciate you sharing your vast knowledge of the universe. It is a unique column and perhaps the most interesting regular feature of the DNT or any other newspaper I read.

    I hope you will continue contributing the Astro Bob column.

    1. astrobob

      Hi Brian,
      Thank you for saying! Yes, I’m happy to say I’ll continue with the blog and the column in the newspaper 🙂

  3. Brian Rajala

    Say it ain’t so Bob!

    I have enjoyed your insights into the stratosphere and beyond. Your column has been the most interesting and informative feature of this and the Twin City papers that I read daily.

    While I understand everyone rides into the sunset at some point, I hope you will continue to regularly contribute the Astro Bob column. It is a valuable source of information.

Comments are closed.