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NASA's Mars mission hopes to find what's inside the red planet

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By Jeremy Wilks
NASA's Mars mission hopes to find what's inside the red planet

What's inside Mars?

That's the question a new mission from NASA is hoping to answer when it lands on the red planet later today (Monday).

While other Mars probes have been looking for water and signs of life on the red planet, the robotic lander InSight is very different. It is looking find out how warm and geologically-active the planet is.

“The key question is to explore the interior of another Earth-like planet other than the Earth — or another rocky planet — in order to be able to compare that planet with the Earth. It’s a comparison that we are aiming at,” said Tilman Spohn, director of the Institute of Planetary Research at German Aerospace Centre.

That comparison is what is fascinating scientists.

Lu Pan, a planetary geologist at the University of Lyon, said we really don’t know much about what is beneath the surface.

“We do you have some guesses from our understanding of the Earth interior. We think Mars, as a terrestrial planet, was formed more-or-less the same way as the Earth. So we think it has a core, mantle and a crust. We know that Earth’s outer-liquid core is the reason we have a magnetic field and because we don’t observe these magnetic fields on Mars, we think it probably doesn’t have a liquid outer core.”

InSight should land on a sandy area of Mars, where the German instruments on board will take readings on heat flux below the surface.

“It’s not actually a drill, it’s a penetrator, it’s a jackhammer, so to speak. It has a hammering mechanism in its interior. It's not rotating like a drill, but it's hammering straight down and into the interior to a depth of hopefully five metres.”

First, however, InSight has to get there. It's notoriously difficult to touch down on Mars and many missions have failed. Only NASA has so far managed to carry out a controlled-entry descent and landing and fingers are crossed that they can do it again this time.

“So that landing is crucial,” said Euronews’ space correspondent, Jeremy Wilks. “Once they've managed to touchdown safely they can start to put the instruments in place and really begin to study the interior of Mars.”