A Mars lander may have detected clues to the formation of the red planet billions of years ago.According to Science Mag, researchers studying NASA’s InSight spacecraft, which landed on the surface of Mars two years ago, have finally been able to detect some hints of boundaries in the rock, tens and hundreds of kilometers below the planet’s crust, which they say is surprisingly thin. The team also found the mantle to be of a cooler temperature than expected despite the planet’s molten iron core.These new discoveries about Mars’ interior have led the team to believe that the planet once cooled itself through a kind of plate tectonics, following a pattern of “upwelling mantle rock and subducting crust” that resulted in Mars efficiently shedding heat. A scientist, who wasn’t involved in the mission, said these findings may present evidence of “a far more dynamic crust formation in Mars’ early days.”
Ever since NASA’s InSight craft alighted on Mars, the seismometers have been running nonstop to measure and record details of marsquakes to garner more information about the planet’s internal composition and structure. Unfortunately, there hasn’t been a quake larger than magnitude 4.5, which means the seismic waves haven’t been travelling as deep below the surface as researchers would want.Have you seen The Martian?
However, two moderate quakes, at magnitude 3.7 and 3.3, have been described as “treasure troves” for the mission. Science Mag notes that the waves from these quakes barrelled towards NASA’s lander, which recorded travel times. The offsets hinted at the “thickness of the crust” and suggested “distinct layers within it,” according to Brigitte Knapmeyer-Endrun, a seismologist at the University of Cologne.
InSight’s data revealed that Mars could be made up of two or three layers, with the planet’s crust appearing thinner than Earth’s continental crust. Researchers calculated the outermost shell of the red planet to be just 20 or 37 kilometers thick, with a shallow layer beneath indicating a cooler mantle, encasing a liquid core of about 1800-kilometer radius (more than half the planet’s total diameter).
Over the coming months, the InSight team, led by Bruce Banerdt, principal investigator and geophysicist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, will continue its geological study of the red planet in an effort to record more accurate measurements from event detections and gain an even clearer picture of Mars’ multi-layered interior.
For other exciting space discoveries and developments, read about how NASA’s Mars rover transported 10.9 million names to the red planet for a campaign, find out about the astronomers that discovered a new method to detect potentially habitable planets, and discover all of the details about the mini-moon that was found to be orbiting Earth earlier this year.
Adele Ankers is a Freelance Entertainment Journalist. You can reach her on Twitter.