Two weeks after NASA’s InSight lander touched down on Mars, its precise location on Elysium Planitia has been pinpointed, thanks to pictures from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
And it’s not just the car-sized lander: The orbiter even identified the sites where the spacecraft’s heat shield as well as its backshell and attached parachute ended up.
In today’s mission update, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory says the lander, heat shield and parachute are all within 1,000 feet of one another on the “heavenly plain” where InSight is gearing up to monitor Mars’ seismic activity and heat flow.
Here’s how Alfred McEwen, principal investigator for Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter’s High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment, or HiRISE, describes the color scene you see here, based on imagery captured from orbit on Dec. 6 and 11.
“It looks like the heat shield (upper right) has its dark outside facing down, since it is so bright (saturated, probably a specular reflection). The lander (middle) disturbed dust over a fair distance and has darkened the surface, as seen previously at the Phoenix and Curiosity landing sites. The bright spot associated with the lander is probably another specular reflection, and there are two smaller bluish extensions that are the solar arrays, plus their shadows.
“The backshell attached to the parachute (lower left) may have yet another specular reflection; the streak extending to the south well beyond the parachute is probably a pre-existing dust devil track. The lander is about 6 meters wide when the solar arrays are fully deployed.”
Identifying the location of the lander should provide important context for on-the-ground readings that InSight will be collecting over the course of one Martian year, which translates to roughly two Earth years.