Story at a glance

  • NASA researchers confirmed on Thursday that the Red Planet has a molten core.
  • This was revealed using seismic data collected from Mars rovers.
  • Mars is now thought to have formed in a similar manner to Earth, with a crust, mantel and core.

The first samples collected from NASA’s mission to Mars were published on Thursday, revealing new details on the planet’s outer surface and core previously known to scientists.

Using seismic data, NASA researchers confirmed that the center of the Red Planet is molten.

The flight that reached Mars was NASA’s InSight spacecraft. It first touched down on Mars back in 2018.

“When we first started putting together the concept of the mission more than a decade ago, the information in these papers is what we hoped to get at the end,” said InSight’s principal investigator Bruce Banerdt of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, which leads the mission. “This represents the culmination of all the work and worry over the past decade.”

Using seismic data helped researchers gauge the structure of each layer of Mars based on how fast the seismic waves move when traveling through different materials of a planet, such as rocks versus liquids.

 

 

Distinct movement patterns from "marsquakes" helped researchers understand and map the layers of the planet. The quakes were plentiful, with InSight recording data for 733 distinct tremors. Roughly just 35 of these provided data that went into NASA’s publications.

“This study is a once-in-a-lifetime chance,” said Simon Stähler from the Swiss university ETH Zurich, the lead author of the core paper. “It took scientists hundreds of years to measure Earth’s core; after the Apollo missions, it took them 40 years to measure the Moon’s core. InSight took just two years to measure Mars’ core.”

What scientists learned from this data and further study was that Mars got warmer as it formed from meteor material and space dust orbiting the Sun, a process that shaped our solar system and gave rise to Earth.

Similarly to Earth, Mars developed its own crust, mantel and core.

The crust on Mars was found to be thinner than anticipated and it runs about 12 miles deep before hitting a sub-layer.

InSight’s quake monitoring found that one area on the planet, called Cerberus Fossae, was volcanically active, potentially emitting lava flows over the past few million years.

Even with all the seismic activity recorded so far, NASA scientists have yet to see anything above a 4.0 magnitude level.

A larger marsquake could give researchers even more data to work with and help them further understand Mars.

“We’d still love to see the big one,” said Mark Panning, another lead author of the NASA paper studying Mars’s crust. “We have to do lots of careful processing to pull the things we want from this data. Having a bigger event would make all of this easier.”

Published on Jul 22, 2021