Martian Satellite Spots NASA’s InSight Lander From Space

By George Dvorsky on at

The precise location of NASA’s InSight lander within Elysium Planitia is now known, thanks to images captured by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

The InSight lander touched down on the Martian surface on November 26, with NASA scientists confident it had settled somewhere along an 81-mile-long (130-kilometre-long) ellipse chosen as an ideal landing zone. But it’s exact location within Elysium Planitia—a flat lava plain just north of the Martian equator—wasn’t known until now.

NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), a satellite that’s been in orbit around Mars since 2006, scanned the Martian surface near the suspected landing area on December 6, then again five days later. Images taken by its camera, the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE), revealed InSight’s location within the plain, along with the location of its discarded heat shield and parachute.

Some of the objects in the photos have a teal-like hue, which isn’t their actual color. Light “reflected off their surfaces cause the color to be saturated,” explains NASA in a release. This effect is what’s known as a specular reflection.

InSight’s discarded heat shield.

Image: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona“It looks like the heat shield has its dark outside facing down, since it is so bright,” wrote the HiRISE team at its blog. “The lander 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.”