NASA's InSight Flying to Mars, Will Burrow Into Ground to Measure Planet's Temperature

A new lander headed for Mars will be able to take measurements its predecessors couldn't. The InSight lander is equipped with an instrument called the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package, or HP3, to take measurements of the heat inside of the Red Planet as the heat makes its way to the surface, according to NASA.

The lander isn't expected to reach Mars until November, a countdown on NASA's website Wednesday showed that it would be another 89 days until InSight touched down on the planet's surface.

InSight launched May 5 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California as the first interplanetary mission to launch from the West Coast. But that's not where the history-making stops for the lander.

As of Wednesday, the lander was more than 27 million miles from Earth, more than two-thirds of the way to its final destination. On board the lander is a series of instruments, in addition to the HP3, all designed to help it study the interior of the planet. Its two other primary instruments are the SEIS and the RISE instruments.

SEIS measures the internal activity of Mars by measuring the pulses that come from the planet's core, while RISE measures the wobble of the North Pole on the planet that moves as it get pushed and pulled by the sun, according to NASA.

While those instruments measure those variables on Mars, the HP3 will send a heat probe below the planet's crust to measure the inner temperature of Mars and how much of that heat is flowing up to the surface.

HP3 insight instrument
This HP3 instrument is attached to the InSight probe heading to Mars. It will measure the planet’s internal temperature by burrowing into Mars and then sending out heat pulses. NASA

The hope in studying the heat in the planet is to better understand how the surface of the planet came to be, including its large mountains. The movement of the heat through Mars's upper layer and crust is what determines the features of the surface, according to NASA.

The HP3 instrument will burrow into Mars and then send out heat pulses. Depending on how quickly those pulses warm the rock around the probe, the researchers will be able to determine how well the material conducts heat.