Mars provides detailed look at the interior of the Red Planet

An earthquake measuring instrument on Mars is providing the first detailed look at the interior of the Red Planet

Cape Canaveral, Fla. An earthquake-measuring instrument on Mars is providing the first detailed look at the interior of the Red Planet, revealing a surprisingly thin crust and a hot molten core beneath the cold surface.

In a series of articles published this week, scientists report that the Martian crust is within Earth’s thickness range. The Martian mantle between the crust and core is about half as thick as Earth’s. And Mars’ core is on the higher side of what scientists expected, though smaller than the core of our own nearly twice-massive planet.

These new studies confirm that the core of Mars is molten. But more research is needed to know whether Mars has a solid inner core, like Earth, surrounded by a molten outer core, according to international research teams.

Strong earthquakes could help identify any of several core layers, scientists said Friday.

The findings are based on about 35 marsquakes registered by a French seismometer on NASA’s InSight stable lander, which reached Mars in 2018. The domed seismometer has actually detected 733 marsquakes so far, but 35 with a magnitude of 3.0 to 4.0 served as the basis. for these studies. Most major earthquakes originated in a volcanic region 1,000 miles (1,600 km) away, where lava may have flowed millions of years ago.

Mark Panning of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, who participated in the crust study, said even the largest earthquakes are so weak that they can hardly be felt on Earth. He’s hoping for “big ones” that will make it easier to process the data and define the Martian interior.

“Fingers crossed, we’d love to see some big events happen,” Panning said.

Current measurements suggest that the crust of Mars is probably 12 miles to 23 miles (20 kilometers to 37 kilometers) deep; the mantle extending for about 1,000 miles (1,600 km); and a relatively light core with a radius of 1,137 miles (1,830 km).

By comparison, the Earth’s crust extends from a few miles (kilometres) under the oceans to more than 45 miles (70 km) under the Himalayas. Earth is about twice the size of Mars.

“From a cartoonish understanding of what Mars looks like inside, to putting real numbers on it… we’ve been able to really expand the family tree of understanding” of how the rocky planet of our solar system formed, Panning said. Panning said.

With its mission extended by two years, InSight has been grappling with power shortages in recent months. Dust covered its solar panels, just as Mars was approaching the farthest point in its orbit around the Sun.

Flight controllers have increased the power by using the lander’s robotic arm to push some dust onto the panels to release sand into the blowing air. The seismometer continued to operate, but all other science instruments remained on hiatus due to power conditions – except for a German heat probe that was declared dead in January as it plunged a couple feet (half a meter) into the planet. Had failed to bury more.

The three studies and a companion article appeared in Thursday’s edition of the journal Science.


The Associated Press Department of Health and Science receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. AP is solely responsible for all content.


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