Mars InSight Landing

14 December 2018

Members of the public were invited to the Department on Nov. 26, 2018 to join researchers from Oxford Physics, Imperial College, Bristol University, RAL Space and the UK Space Agency, who have worked on the Mars Insight mission, to celebrate its scheduled landing on Mars.

The evening kicked off with an introduction from Sue Horne, Head of Space Exploration at the UK Space Agency. Dr Neil Bowles (Oxford Physics) and Dr Anna Horleston from Bristol University then discussed some of the science driving the InSight mission, why are we interested in exploring Mars and what would hopefully happen as the InSight spacecraft hits the top of the Martian atmosphere about 45 minutes after the lecture starts. The event was chaired by Prof. Chris Lintott.

This was an exciting opportunity for the research team to share in the excitement of the landing with members of the public! Over 200 people attended and the event is fully booked.

InSight touched down on Mars at around 8pm. The lander plunged through the thin Martian atmosphere, heatshield first, and used a parachute to slow down. Then, it fired its retro rockets to slowly descend to the surface of Mars, and land on the smooth plains of Elysium Planiti. The audience watched a live stream from the NASA control room and waiting for news of the landing with bated breath.

News about the success of the landing was received with cheers and clapping in the theatre. The auidnece went on to celebrate with a drink in the foyer of the new Beecroft Building.

Dr Neil Bowles reported that "It was a tense and ultimately amazing evening and really fantastic to share the experience with so many people. Our instrument is working on the lander deck and the next steps are to see it safely siting on the surface of Mars.

The event can be followed through a Twitter Moment here.

The mission

InSight (Interior exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) is a NASA Discovery Program mission that will place a single geophysical lander on Mars to study its deep interior. InSight is a terrestrial planet explorer that will open a window into the processes that shaped the rocky planets of the inner solar system (including Earth) more than 4.5 billion years ago. By using sophisticated geophysical instruments, it will address fundamental questions about the formation of Earth-like planets by detecting the fingerprints of those processes buried deep within the interior of Mars.

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The word cloud in the image is formed from feedback about the event.

Scientists from Oxford’s Department of Physics worked in collaboration with the UK Space Agency and Imperial College London to support one of the key instruments onboard: the short period Seismometer (SEIS-SP). This will be placed on the surface of Mars to detect seismic waves from Marsquakes and meteorite impacts.

More information about the mission can be found on the University news pages.


The Oxford logo can be seen on the InSight lander. Image taken on Mars. The top image shows a map of the Mars landing site which was displayed at the landing event.