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Marshal gets lucky: NASA lands in a crater full of sand, relieves the study of the planet's interior | Science

Pictures from InSight show that the landing is in a flat crater full of sand.

JPL-Caltech / NASA

Paul Voosen

PASADENA, CALIFORNIA-There was a marshalling in the Earth lab.

On 27 November, after the successful landing of NASA at Mars airport, JPL's engineers, JPL, simulated Mars with a full-fledged model of landing gear called ForeSight after leaving television crews. Scientists still do not know where Mars InSight is. But the first few images sent back to Earth created their immediate surroundings – and the landing gear is slightly inclined by 4 °. So, yesterday, NASA engineers played in the sand, moving the fake stones on Mars. They lifted the Foresight up on their shoulders as they pulled small blocks under the landing foot to get on the list.

A glance at the foreground gallery was Matt Golombek, JPL geologist, who will lead the location of two InSight instruments, a heat and a seismometer probe. From the few photographs returned, he says, they learned of his position, which is very similar to the Martian terrain previously explored by the spiritual rover.

For example, InSight landed in the so-called Cavity, a crater that was filled with soil and flat. The edge of the crater is seen in images taken from the elbow of the robotic arm. Once the team determines the diameter of the crater – these can be meters, maybe tens of meters – scientists can derive their depth and the amount of sand they have poured into. Either way, it points well for a heat probe tool, called HP3, which should easily penetrate the material. "It's probably a good news for HP3, as you might hope," he says.

Landing in the cavity was happy for another reason. InSight did not reach the target landing zone into his bull's eye and ended up in terrain that is generally higher than required. But the cavity is mostly free of rocks. One, about 20 centimeters across, sits close to the feet of the landing, while the three smaller ones lie further – but no one poses a threat to the location of the tools. The cavity is flat and lacks sand dunes and small stone clouds show the surface thick enough to support the weight of the instruments. "We will not have any problems," says Golombek.

The biggest secret for the ground team right now is to find out exactly where it is. The Mars orbiter, who is photographing the landing zone center on Thursday, is missing a landing space because he missed the center slightly. The InSight on-screen instrument called an inertial measurement unit fixed the position in a 5-kilometer wide circle. InSight's inbound, landing, and landing team will refine this estimate for a mile or less. "But they have not done so yet, because they were so happy they landed safely, we do not know what they did last night," Golombek says with a smile. "And they did not show up today."

There is one other technique that could help: InSight's third primary experiment called Rotation and Internal Structure Experiment (RISE). The main purpose of two RISE sensitive antennas is to recognize waves in the Martian core. But the InSight team can also use it to map the latitude and longitude of the landing gear using radio signals passing through orbits. This gave the geologists a location of about 100 meters.

Now is a friendly competition. Golombek and his peers hope to beat the satellites to determine the location of InSight. They should have until December 6, when it is likely to provide orbit. They are now spreading bad images and trying to compare their cavity with existing high resolution maps. Their task will be much easier next week when the camera on the elbow of the robotic arm is extended to take a detailed view of the terrain. So far, the stock has been deposited – Tuesday related to simple steps, such as burning small charges that secure the shoulder to the deck. But later this week, after shutting down the camera and releasing the arm, a detailed survey begins.

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