Another day, another amazing set of photos from the InSight mission on Mars.
Yesterday, the public was introduced to the first official selfie of the InSight lander, per the Inquisitr — a complete photo of the entire spacecraft, solar panels and science gear included.
Today, we get to see what the InSight probe looks like from space, courtesy of NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). The spacecraft pointed its HiRISE camera toward InSight’s touchdown spot on two separate days — on December 6 and December 11 — and snapped three images that pinpoint the lander’s exact location on Elysium Planitia.
Until now, the mission’s team only knew that the probe had landed within an 81-mile-long ellipse on the dust-covered terrain of the ancient lava plain — as seen in this photo from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. These new images have made it possible for mission controllers to identify InSight’s precise position on Mars.
The MRO also spotted InSight’s heat shield and parachute, discarded by the probe on November 26 during the entry, descent, and landing sequence that brought it safely to Martian ground.
“Hello from Mars! The first pics of me taken from space show exactly where I settled down,” the InSight team wrote on Twitter earlier today.
“See if you can spot my solar panels. Also, thank you to my parachute, back shell and heat shield, now at rest on Mars, having safely delivered me to my new home.”
In the photo montage above, the InSight lander is seen in the central image, with its solar panels deployed on both sides of the spacecraft in a very artistic “butterfly shape.”
Meanwhile, the probe’s thick heat shield is imaged to the left. This piece of hardware was designed to protect the InSight spacecraft during its fiery plunge through the Martian atmosphere.
Lastly, the spacecraft’s parachute appears to the right, next to InSight’s back shell — the crescent-shape feature visible to the lower right. InSight used its parachute to slow down upon descent, right before jettisoning the heat shield and stretching out its three landing legs. The back shell was ejected last, as previously reported by the Inquisitr. Its function was to keep the InSight probe safe during its seven-month voyage to Mars.
“In images released today, the three new features on the Martian landscape appear teal. That’s not their actual color,” explained NASA.
“Light reflected off their surfaces causes the color to be saturated. The ground around the lander appears dark, having been blasted by its retrorockets during descent.”
The space agency also released an older photo of Elysium Planitia, taken by HiRISE in 2014, with freshly added annotations that mark the exact locations of the InSight lander, its heat shield, and its parachute.
The three pieces of hardware are scattered within 1,000 feet of one another.