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InSight Spacecraft Lands on Mars to Probe Red Planet's Deepest Secrets

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The Red Planet has long spurred earthbound imaginations: Named after an ancient god of war, the dusty wastes of Mars have been the stage for some of humanity's most colorful fantasies. On Monday, a probe sent by NASA landed on its surface with a mission to delve into its deepest secrets—literally.

The InSight lander traveled for more than six months—and 300 million miles—before signaling it had landed safely to mission control at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. Now, it will embark on a series of scientific experiments that will explore the planet's interior, hopefully giving researchers back on Earth insight into how Mars formed and creating a map of what lies beneath its surface by listening for "marsquakes," or seismic events.

According to The New York Times, InSight landed at a location called Elysium Planitia, a comparatively flat spot on the planet just north of the equator. For more than a month, earthbound scientists will conduct diagnostics of the lander, but afterward, it will deploy a burrowing heat probe that will ultimately reach a depth of 16 feet beneath the Martian surface.

That probe will determine how seismic the planet is, how large its core and crust are, and how much heat generated by decaying radioactive elements inside the planet radiates outward to its surface. The probe is incredibly sensitive, and can measure surface movements with a width of less than a hydrogen atom. With it, scientists will be able to additionally measure cracks created in the planet's surface caused by its heating and cooling.

InSight has been a multinational effort, financially fronted, primarily, by the United States to the tune of $814 million. France and Germany spent a combined $180 million building its primary instrument toolkit.