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“After a seven-month journey, Nasa’s InSight probe is about to reach Mars and – if touchdown goes to plan – embark on an unprecedented mission to map the planet’s interior.
The lander will aim for one of the dullest parts of the planet’s dusty surface, Elysium Planitia, a vast lava plain that the US space agency calls “the biggest parking lot on Mars”. The flat, rockless expanse was deemed the perfect place for InSight to record tremors unleashed by “Marsquakes” and to measure heat flow in the planet’s upper layers.
The $814m (£633m) mission will help scientists understand the Martian core, crust and mantle, allowing them for the first time to know how the planet formed at the dawn of the solar system 4.6bn years ago.
Landing a probe on Mars remains a tricky business for rocket scientists: only 40% of missions have succeeded. Nasa is the only space agency to have pulled off a landing on the planet, most recently in 2012 when the Curiosity rover was winched to the surface by a “sky crane”. In 2016 the European Space Agency attempted to put a lander on Mars, but the Schiaparelli probe switched off its retro-rockets too soon and smashed into the ground.
The InSight lander is expected to touch down at about 8pm GMT on Monday, and multiple critical steps will need to work perfectly. The spacecraft will hurtle into the thin Martian atmosphere at 13,200mph, deploy a parachute and fire 12 retro-thrusters to cushion its landing. Nasa calls the entry, descent and landing phase of its Mars missions the “seven minutes of terror”. Confirmation of the landing will be beamed back to Earth via two experimental cube satellites that have trailed the probe to its destination.”
JJ Editor's Daily Picks
"Political leaders from all French parties, including former presidents Francois Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy, joined Jews and non-Jews in Paris’s Place de la Republique to condemn antisemitic acts."
"Eighty years ago tonight, thousands of Americans gathered in New York to rally behind the Nazi Party and its ideals. An Oscar-nominated short documentary retrieves footage of the event, but leaves out the context that gives it meaning."
"The PM has persuaded the religious-Zionist Jewish Home to partner with the Kahanists of Otzma Yehudit. It makes cynical political sense for his interests, but what of Israel’s?"
"IFC’s series Documentary Now! began as an affectionately parodic tribute to the classics of nonfiction cinema. Its first episode, “Sandy Passage,” was a note-perfect evocation of the Maysles brothers’ Grey Gardens..."
"Making our choices count is, however, far from straightforward, and this is the subject of Martin Hägglund’s book This Life: Secular Faith and Spiritual Freedom."
"Teens in the United States are coming of age at a time when digital technology is truly ubiquitous, where smartphones are all of our “constant companions.”"
"...the Smollett story, if the “trajectory” leads to evidence of fakery, would actually reveal something else modern America is about: victimhood chic."
"Cool in the humanities isn’t that different from cool in other areas of cultural life, like planking, hotdog-legs photography, mason jar rehabilitation, and novels whose main character is a city."
"It’s true that high-octane, hardworking child-rearing has some pointless excesses, and it doesn’t spark joy for parents. But done right, it works for kids..."
"Cape Town in South Africa is a foodie destination. Some people in its renowned restaurant industry are trying to spread the food wealth citywide."
"...for many “space expansionists,” escaping Earth is about much more than dodging the bullet of extinction: it’s about realizing astronomical amounts of value by exploiting the universe’s vast resources to create something resembling utopia. "
"After facing persecution in the former Soviet Union and a new wave of antisemitism in the United States, Marya Zilberberg decides to put her Jewishness on display."