The Province

Mars intrigue grows with latest mission

- MARCIA DUNN The Associated Press

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — In our solar system family, Mars is Earth’s next of kin, the next-door relative that has captivated humans for millennia. The attraction is sure to grow with Monday’s arrival of a NASA lander named InSight.

InSight should provide our best look yet at Mars’ deep interior, using a mechanical mole to tunnel five metres deep to measure internal heat, and a seismomete­r to register quakes, meteorite strikes and anything else that might start the red planet shaking.

Scientists consider Mars a tantalizin­g time capsule. It is less geological­ly active than the twice-as-big Earth and so retains much of its early history.

By studying the preserved heart of Mars, InSight can teach us how our solar system’s rocky planets formed 4½ billion years ago and why they turned out so different.

“Venus is hot enough to melt lead. Mercury has a sun-baked surface. Mars is pretty cold today. But Earth is a nice place to take a vacation, so we’d really like to know why one planet goes one way, another planet goes another way,” said InSight’s lead scientist Bruce Banerdt of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

Today’s Earthlings are lured to Mars for a variety of reasons.

Mars — “an incredible natural laboratory” — is reasonably easy to get to, and the U.S., at least, has a proven track record there, noted Lori Glaze, NASA’s acting director of planetary science.

The cherry on top is that Mars may have once been flush with water and could have harboured life.

“Trying to understand how life is — or was — distribute­d across our solar system is one of the major questions that we have,” Glaze said Wednesday at a news conference. “Are we alone? Were we alone sometime in the past?”

In two years, NASA will actually seek evidence of ancient microbial life on Mars — if, indeed, it’s there.

On Monday, the space agency announced Jezero Crater as the landing site for the Mars 2020 rover, which will gather samples and stash them for return to Earth in the early 2030s.

The crater’s ancient lake and river system is brimming with diverse rocks, making it a potential hot spot for past life.

Recorded observatio­ns of Mars — about double the size of Earth’s moon — date back to ancient Egypt. But it wasn’t until the 19th century that Mars mania truly set in when Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaperel­li began mapping the Red Planet.

 ?? NASA/JPL-CALTECH ?? A self-portrait of NASA’s Curiosity Mars taken in June. On Monday, the NASA lander InSight is expected to arrive on the planet.
NASA/JPL-CALTECH A self-portrait of NASA’s Curiosity Mars taken in June. On Monday, the NASA lander InSight is expected to arrive on the planet.

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