NASA’s InSight Mars lander recently found two quakes on Mars surface that helped scientists figure the planet’s core. They discovered that the core of Mars is smaller and much denser than they previously thought.
InSight’s seismometer detected seismic waves created by the quakes, which delivered the first direct observation of another planet’s core. This discovery is considered as a stepping stone in Mars exploration and will be studied for many years to come.
The findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences. The core’s nature is significant because it is responsible for the planet’s magnetic field, which will influence whether life can exist on a planet or moon.
Jessica Irving, an Earth scientist at the University of Bristol, said the quakes were challenging to detect because energy gets lost or diverted as seismic waves travel through the planet. InSight’s Marsquake Service had improved its skills for over a year, making it easier to detect the two farside quakes.
The quakes were also among the larger ones detected by InSight. The research suggests that Mars has a liquid iron alloy core at its center, with more sulfur and smaller fractions of oxygen, carbon, and hydrogen than previously known.
Unlike Earth, 20% of the Martian core consists of elements lighter than iron. The seismic waves were detected using just one seismometer, a remarkable achievement. The quakes were detected in a “shadow zone,” making it challenging to detect them.
Previous research had only offered a glimpse of the planet’s core by relying on seismic waves that reflected off its outer boundary, providing less precise data. Studying seismic waves that crossed through the core allows scientists to better their models of what the core looks like.
Scientists will have a better understanding of the solar system when planets were initially forming. Now scientists have a better know-how of the conditions affecting the planets that formed by determining the amount of elements such as sulfur, oxygen, carbon, and hydrogen in a planetary core.
The core’s composition also determines how a planet loses its internal heat, which could help understand why Mars lost its magnetic field billions of years ago. The findings have given scientists a better understanding of Mars’ internal makeup and could have implications for future missions to the planet.