NASA’s InSight lander has been collecting soundwaves from quakes and meteorite impacts on Mars over the past four years that have contributed to the discovery of Martian secrets.
During these occasions, Understanding identified interestingly seismic waves going through the Martian center. Using the data from the lander, scientists now know that Mars has a liquid iron-alloy core with lighter elements like sulfur and oxygen and smaller amounts of hydrogen and carbon.
Scientists can learn more about how rocky planets like Mars and Earth form, how they differ from one another, and the factors that make other planets habitable for life by learning more about the interior of Mars.
The findings were presented in detail in a study that was published on Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“In 1906, scientists first discovered the Earth’s core by observing how seismic waves from earthquakes were affected by traveling through it,” said study coauthor Vedran Lekic, associate professor of geology at the University of Maryland, College Park, in a statement. “More than a hundred years later, we’re applying our knowledge of seismic waves to Mars. With InSight, we’re finally discovering what’s at the center of Mars and what makes Mars so similar yet distinct from Earth.”
In order to estimate the density and chemical composition of the Martian core, researchers looked at how long seismic waves from a single marshquake and meteorite impact had to travel through it.
Earth has a solid inner core and a liquid outer core, but the Martian core appears to be entirely made of liquid. Planetary core provides clues about evolution. With a radius of approximately 1,780 to 1,810 kilometers, the core of Mars is smaller and slightly denser than previously thought.
You could frame it this way: According to study coauthor Nicholas Schmerr, an associate professor of geology at the University of Maryland, College Park, “You can think of it this way; the properties of a planet’s core can serve as a summary about how the planet formed and how it evolved dynamically over time,” in a statement.
“The end result of the formation and evolution processes can be either the generation or absence of life-sustaining conditions. The uniqueness of Earth’s core allows it to generate a magnetic field that protects us from solar winds, allowing us to keep water. Mars’ core does not generate this protective shield, and so the planet’s surface conditions are hostile to life.”
Despite the absence of a magnetic field at the moment, the crust of Mars still contains evidence of magnetism. According to the traces, Mars may have once supported a potentially habitable environment before evolving into an inhospitable frozen desert over time.
“It’s like a puzzle in some ways,” Lekic said. “For example, there are small traces of hydrogen in Mars’ core. That means that there had to be certain conditions that allowed the hydrogen to be there, and we have to understand those conditions in order to understand how Mars evolved into the planet it is today.”
The initial duration of the InSight mission, the first to investigate the interior of Mars, was only approximately two years. Yet, NASA broadened the mission for an additional two years.
“The extra mission time certainly paid off,” said lead concentrate on creator Dr. Jessica Irving, senior speaker in Studies of the planet at the College of Bristol in the Unified Realm, in an explanation.
“We’ve made the very first observations of seismic waves travelling through the core of Mars. Two seismic signals, one from a very distant marsquake and one from a meteorite impact on the far side of the planet, have allowed us to probe the Martian core with seismic waves. We’ve effectively been listening for energy travelling through the heart of another planet, and now we’ve heard it.”
After dust prevented its solar panels from receiving the necessary sunlight, the InSight mission stopped collecting data about Mars in December 2022. However, the lander’s four years on the Martian surface have yielded a treasure trove of information that has revolutionized how scientists understand the red planet.
“InSight will continue to influence how we understand the formation and evolution of Mars and other planets for years to come,” Lekic said.