NASA’S Insight probe has deployed its first tool on Mars as it ploughs on with its mission to explore the depths of the red planet.
Images sent by the £660million machine show a bell-shaped seismometer placed on the Martian surface by the lander’s enormous robotic arm.
The instrument will record tiny quakes under the planet’s crust that have baffled scientists for decades.
Scientists believe these ‘marsquakes’ occur regularly, but have no idea what causes them.
Nasa said the probe was performing well and running ahead of schedule.
« InSight’s timetable of activities on Mars has gone better than we hoped, » said InSight Project Manager Tom Hoffman, who is based at Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
« Getting the seismometer safely on the ground is an awesome Christmas present. »
Insight’s team has been working hard to get its two main instruments up and running.
As well as the seismometer, which contains a suite of instruments developed in Britain and France, the robot is equipped with a heat probe that will burrow into the ground.
The data Insight provides will help scientists reveal the position and nature of the layers of rock beneath the Martian surface.
Nasa hopes to learn why rocky planets in the solar system turned out so differently to Earth, which evolved into a haven for life.
Insight is Nasa’s eighth successful landing on Mars since the 1976 Viking probes, and the first in over six years.
The Curiosity rover, which arrived in 2012, is still studying the red planet.