NASA InSight lander sets its burrowing ‘Mole’ onto Mars

The InSight lander put the Mole into position this week.

NASA/JPL-Caltech

Seismometer? Check. Seismometer cover? Done. NASA’s InSight lander has now knocked another big task off its to-do list. It successfully set its ambitious heat probe onto the dusty surface of Mars on Tuesday.

The Heat Flow and Physical Properties Probe, HP3 for short, will act like a robotic mole and burrow into the ground using a self-hammering spike, hopefully reaching a depth of up to 16 feet (5 meters). The German Aerospace Center (DLR) developed the probe and refers to it by the nickname “Mole.”

NASA tweeted a look at the process of moving Mole, which involved grasping the instrument with InSight’s claw on the end of its robotic arm. A GIF shows the arm placing the probe on a spot near where the seismometer sits.

Mole will measure the heat emanating from the interior of Mars to help scientists determine the source of the heat and how similar Mars is to Earth. InSight is also listening for marsquakes with its seismometer as part of its mission to learn more about the formation of rocky planets.

The heat flow probe will burrow down over the coming weeks, taking the planet’s temperature as it goes. 

“We hope that the Mole will not encounter any large rocks on its way into the subsurface,” said Mole principal investigator Tilman Spohn from the DLR Institute of Planetary Research.

InSight’s all-systems-go Mars accomplishments are a bright spot of good news coming from the Red Planet at a time when NASA’s long-lived Opportunity rover seems to have reached the end of its own epic mission. Oppy’s time may be over, but InSight’s is just getting started.

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