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Visualizing the InSight Landing Site on Mars

Posted 7 months ago
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On Nov 26, 2018, NASA landed the InSight lander on the surface of Mars. The planned landing site was 4.5°N, 135°E, within Elysium Planitia. At the time of this post, the final landing coordinates have not been released, but is believed to be very close to the planned coordinates.

prims[ent_Entity, label_: Automatic] := 
 Module[{pos, nam}, {pos, nam} = ent[{"Position", "Name"}];
  {Disk[pos, .01], 
   Text[If[label === Automatic, nam, label], pos, {0, -1.5}]}]

prims[pos_GeoPosition, label_] := {Disk[pos, .01], 
  Text[label, pos, {0, -1.5}]}

We can now construct a GeoGraphics expression that contains the data we want to visualize. The landing sites of a few additional probes and surface features have also been included for greater context.

marsmap[opts___] := 
 With[{pos1 = GeoPosition[{4.5, 135}, Entity["Planet", "Mars"]]}, 
  GeoGraphics[{Red, GeoPath["Equator"], White, 
    prims[pos1, "InSight lander"], 
    prims[Entity["DeepSpaceProbe", "MarsScienceLaboratory"], 
     "Curiosity rover"], 
    prims[Entity["SolarSystemFeature", "ElysiumMonsMars"]], 
    prims[Entity["DeepSpaceProbe", "VikingLander2"]], 
    prims[Entity["DeepSpaceProbe", "MERDashASpiritRover"], 
     "Spirit rover"], {Black, 
     Text["Elysium Planitia", 
      Entity["SolarSystemFeature", "ElysiumPlanitiaMars"][
       "Position"], {0, 0}]}, Opacity[.1], 
   GeoGridLines -> Automatic, 
   GeoGridLinesStyle -> Opacity[0.3, White], ImageSize -> 400, 
   GeoRange -> All, opts]]

With[{pos1 = GeoPosition[{4.5, 135}, Entity["Planet", "Mars"]]}, 
     GeoProjection -> {"Orthographic", "Centering" -> pos1}, 
     GeoZoomLevel -> 2], 
    marsmap[GeoBackground -> "ReliefMap", 
     GeoProjection -> {"Orthographic", "Centering" -> pos1}, 
     GeoZoomLevel -> 2]}}]]

Satellite image and topography of Mars showing InSight landing site and surrounding features and probes

We can view the landing site in more detail by examining the elevation data for this part of Elysium Planitia. Here, we extract the data within a 300 mile radius of the landing site.

insight = 
   GeoDisk[GeoPosition[{4.5, 135}, Entity["Planet", "Mars"]], 
    Quantity[300, "Miles"]], GeoZoomLevel -> 5];

Without further specifications, the results make the landscape look quite rough.

ListPlot3D[Reverse[insight], PlotRange -> All, ImageSize -> 500]

3D surface plot, without scaling, of elevation data surrounding the InSight landing site

But the above is misleading. We can specify box ratios and other styles to more accurately represent the appearance of the landing site.

myBoxRatios[{min_, max_}, radius_, 
   verticalExaggerationFactor_: 1] := {1, 1, 
   verticalExaggerationFactor (max - min)/(2 radius)};

style = {Mesh -> None, 
   PlotStyle -> RGBColor[156/255., 96/255., 62/255.], 
   ImageSize -> 500, Boxed -> False, Axes -> False, 
   Lighting -> {{"Ambient", GrayLevel[.1]}, {"Directional", 
      GrayLevel[1], ImageScaled[{1, 1, .1}]}}, PlotRange -> All, 
   Method -> {"ShrinkWrap" -> True}};

 BoxRatios -> 
  myBoxRatios[MinMax[insight], Quantity[300, "Miles"], 1], style]

Scaled 3D surface plot of elevation data surrounding the InSight landing site

Zooming in a bit further, we can only see a smattering of relatively small craters within a 100 mile radius of the landing site.

insight2 = 
   GeoDisk[GeoPosition[{4.5, 135}, Entity["Planet", "Mars"]], 
    Quantity[100, "Miles"]], GeoZoomLevel -> 5];

 BoxRatios -> 
  myBoxRatios[MinMax[insight2], Quantity[100, "Miles"], 1], style]

Scaled and zoomed 3D surface plot of elevation data surrounding the InSight landing site

The landing site is relatively flat which is optimal for the mission since it needs smooth, loose terrain that is easy to burrow the seismometer and instrumentation into.


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