US space agency Nasa has landed a new robot on Mars after a dramatic seven-minute plunge to the surface of the Red Planet.
The robot is called the InSight probe and it aims to study the deep interior of Mars.
This will make it the only planet – apart from Earth – that has been examined in this way.
Nasa’s mission control in California erupted with delight when it became clear InSight was safe on the ground.
The probe landed safely on a flat plain known as Elysium Planitia, close to the Red Planet’s equator.
Engineers are currently awaiting a health report and a picture from the probe that shows its surroundings.
What is different about this mission?
This will be the first probe to dedicate its investigations to understanding Mars’ interior.
Scientists want to know how the world is constructed – from its core to its crust. InSight has three principal experiments to achieve this goal.
The first is a package of Franco-British seismometers that will be lifted on to the surface to listen for “Marsquakes”. These vibrations will reveal where the rock layers are and what they are made of.
A German “mole” will burrow up to 5m into the ground to take the planet’s temperature. This will give a sense of how active Mars still is.
And the third experiment will use radio transmissions to very precisely determine how the planet is wobbling on its axis.
Astronomers have discovered a planet around one of the closest stars to our Sun.
It orbits Barnard’s star, which sits six light-years away.
The planet’s mass is thought to be more than three times that of our own, placing it in a category of world know as “super-Earths”.
“We think that this is what we call a Super-Earth – that would be possibly a mostly rocky planet with a massive atmosphere. It’s probably very rich in volatiles like water, hydrogen, carbon dioxide – things like this. Many of them are frozen on the surface,” Guillem Anglada Escudé, an astronomer from Queen Mary University of London said.
Astronomers have called this new planet Barnard’s Star b. It is about as far away from its star as Mercury is from the Sun.
Barnard’s Star b is known as an exoplanet. It’s the second closest exoplanet to Earth after Proxima Centauri b, whose discovery was announced in 2016.
On distance alone, it’s estimated that temperatures would be about -150C on the planet’s surface. However, a massive atmosphere could potentially warm the planet, making conditions more hospitable to life.
When the next generation of telescopes come online, scientists will be able to characterise the planet’s properties. This will likely include a search for gases like oxygen and methane in the planet’s atmosphere, which might be markers for biology.
“The James Webb Space Telescope might not help in this case, because it was not designed for what’s called high contrast imaging. But in the US, they are also developing WFirst – a small telescope that’s also used for cosmology,” said Dr Anglada Escudé.
What is an exoplanet?
Exoplanets are planets that obit a different star than our Sun – in a different solar system to the one we are in.