Nervous wait for Mars probe landing
French scientists watching approach of Nasa probe nervously as they hope it survives dangerous landing procedure so it can conduct their experiments
French scientists are watching the Mars approach of a Nasa probe with keen interest - and a fair few nerves.
Following a seven-month, 548million-kilometre journey, InSight is about to reach the red planet. If it survives what has been termed 'seven minutes of terror' as it enters the atmosphere and lands on the planet, it will embark on a two-year mission to map the interior of the planet.
The €715million mission is intended to help scientists understand the Martian core, crust and mantle, allowing them for the first time to know how the planet formed 4.6billion years ago.
A seismometer developed in France by the Centre national d'études spatiales will be able to detect even tremors, or 'Marsquakes'. It is expected that InSight - Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations - will detect anywhere between a dozen and 100 tremors of 3.5 or above during its mission.
The device is so sensitive that, when it was tested, it picked up seismic readings made when nearby church bells rang, according to the BBC.
A second device, developed in Germany, will test how much heat is escaping from the planet's core, while a third experiment will measure with great accuracy, how much Mars 'wobbles' as it orbits the sun.
But the first step is to survive landing. The probe is approaching the planet at more than 13,000mph, and must slow to just 8mph before it hits the ground. To do so, it will deploy a parachute, then fire 12 thrusters to cut its speed. A pair of experimental satellites that have followed the probe throughout its journey through space will transmit news of its fate to mission control. Radio telescopes are also tracking from Earth.
The first images are due to be received some 30 minutes after landing, assuming all has gone well.
Course corrections at this stage are too late, as instructions take several minutes to reach the probe.
Anyone interested in watching the landing 'from mission control' can watch live at www.nasa.gov/nasalive/ - the stream will go live at 8pm. The probe is due to finish its descent at about 8.54pm.
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