Hammer drill of the Mars Lander gets stuck under the surface

As a result, the instrument does not seem to be deeper than about 20 inches

Two weeks ago, Insight Mars lander set up its second instrument on the red planet: the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package, which the researchers affectionately call ‘the mole’. The instrument hammered its way into the march surface to provide more insight into how much heat comes from Mars itself. But unfortunately the hammer drill meets with a problem. For example, a lot of stones seem to be hidden under the surface.

With about 1000 hammer blows per hour, the instrument began its mission to dig a deep hole in the march surface. But gradually it turned out to be more difficult than expected. It turns out that it is not possible to get deeper than fifty centimeters. “Gradually, the mole seems to have hit a stone,” says lead researcher Tilman Spohn. But the instrument can not be caught for a single hole. Thus the instrument is built so that it can push small stones to the side. The instrument also succeeded in tilting the stone fifteen centimeters and sliding it aside. However, this is very time-consuming work.

After the stone was cleared out of the way, the mission was resumed. But only for a short time. “De Mol continued to drill, but then again hit a stone,” says Spohn. “As a result, the planned four-hour working time of the instrument was quickly achieved.” The hammering causes friction that generates heat. The researchers now allow the instrument to cool down for a while. A second round will then start, in which the hammer drill will dig again for four hours.

In the coming weeks, the instrument will – with appropriate intervals – drill a deep hole in the ground. It is hoped that it will be possible to reach a depth of about five meters. The instrument also pulls a long chain with the Martian soil. This cable is equipped with fourteen temperature sensors. These will measure the temperature at various depths to see how easily heat moves through Mars at a given depth. The researchers will also measure the thermal conductivity. In addition, the radiometer mounted on Insight itself measures the temperature of the surface of Mars. This fluctuates between a few degrees above zero, to almost -100 degrees Celsius. Once all the data has been collected, these will be sent back to earth, where scientists will then study the data.

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