Still basking in the recent success of its Curiosity rover's historic landing on Mars, NASA is already talking about its next mission to the red planet, currently slated for 2016. Called InSight, the new probe being readied by Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), will land on Mars and attempt to determine if the planet has a solid core or a molten one like Earth. The mission will also seek to provide answers to why Mars doesn't seem to have tectonic plates like our own planet.
Budgeted at a conservative $425 million — as compared to Curiosity's $2.5 billion — the InSight probe is the latest in NASA's Discovery-class missions, which include the Kepler space telescope, the probe responsible for discovering numerous exoplanets orbiting distant stars since launching in 2009. Proposed Discovery-class missions include one that would land a boat-style probe on the liquid methane sea of Saturn's moon Titan.
InSight will use sophisticated sensors to measure the core of Mars based on vibrations and heat traveling through the planet's crust. It's believed that the planet's core isn't large enough to cause shifting in the crust of Mars, but recent discoveries indicate that our planetary neighbor might in fact have moving tectonic plates — they're just shifting very slowly, causing tremors once every million years or so.
[Image credit: NASA/JPL]
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