Mars orbiter spies InSight lander from space for the first time
NASA's InSight lander may have touched down on the surface of Mars, snapped a couple of selfies and broken a power record, but there remains plenty to learn about the interplanetary robot's immediate surroundings. Mission scientists have gained another fresh perspective on the lander's new home, courtesy of intriguing aerial images snapped by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO).
It didn't take too long after its November 26 touchdown for a couple of self portraits and telemetry data to confirm the InSight lander was in full working order. Its landing site was soon described as a "large sandbox" by NASA, and offered the spacecraft the room it needed to unfurl its solar array and set a new record for power generation on the Red Planet.
InSight, as seen from the Martian skies in pictures captured by the MRO's HiRISE camera on December 6 and 11, presents as a bright teal marking on Elysium Planitia, the 81-mile-long (130-km) lava plain chosen as its landing site.
This neon appearance is the result of light reflecting off the surface of the lander, and the same goes for its heat shield and parachute, which are both located within 1,000 ft ( around 300 m) of it. A closer inspection of the lander reveals darker, scorched surroundings, the marks of the retrorocket blasts that slowed it down during its descent.
These images, along with those captured by the lander itself, offer interesting perspectives on the Red Planet, but they also serve an important scientific purpose. InSight is currently scouting its surroundings for the ideal place to carry out its primary mission, to drill down to around 16 ft (5 m) below the surface to better understand Mars' geology. The more scientists know about its environment, the better informed they will be when deciding the best place to start digging.