Aussie InSight into the red planet

Curtin planetary scientist Katarina Miljkovic will be the only Australian assisting NASA with its Mars Mission, which the agency hopes will reveal what lies beneath the surface of the red planet.

Dr Miljkovic, an Early Career Research Fellow at Curtin University’s School of Earth and Planetary Sciences, said the Mars-bound lander would measure seismic activity by waiting for meteors to crash into the planet’s surface, causing a “Marsquake”.

The robotic stationary lander, which was launched on May 5, 2018, will also measure pulse, temperature, and reflexes, among other vital signs, making it the first thorough analysis of Mars in its 4.5 billion years.

“My role is to understand how small meteoroid bombardment occurs on Mars and what seismic effects it has on the Martian crust, by developing numerical models,” Dr Miljkovic said.

“InSight records the seismic quakes when impacts actually occur on Mars and my model helps us to understand the structure of the crust and core of Mars by constraining the properties associated with the impacts.”

The InSight (Interior exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) Mission will assist experts to understand the formation and evolution of other rocky planets in our solar system.

Dr Miljkovic said she was excited to see what else would be found.

“There already are the novel things we know we should get. Anything other than that will be a complete bonus,” she said.

“Nobody’s done this before. You’re sitting at the forefront of science and space exploration. How cool is that?”

Distinguished John Curtin Professor Phil Bland, a colleague of Dr Miljkovic, said her selection as the only Australian scientist on the mission reflected both her individual achievements in the field of planetary science and those at Curtin University.

“Curtin University is a leader in space and planetary science in the southern hemisphere,” he said.

“Katarina is a world-leader in the field, as such it is no surprise that this particular Curtin researcher has been selected for a scientific role as significant as being part of NASA’s Mars InSight Mission.”

Speaking about her own involvement, Dr Miljkovic said it was a case of being in the right place at the right time.

“I got involved several years ago while I was working in Paris,” she said.

“It was even back when nobody knew about InSight. I got invited to come on board because of my expertise that they needed.

“It’s amazing, but it’s not just about InSight and it’s not about being the only Australian. It’s about being involved in a space mission that will bring new data, new information, about a planetary body that we know nothing about.”

The InSight lander is expected to reach Mars in six months, where it will then spend about two years performing surface operations.


Photo by: NASA/JPL ( [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons