NASA mission detects first seismic waves traveling through the center of Mars

During the previous four years, Mars experienced quakes and a meteorite slammed into the planet. NASA's InSight lander captured soundwaves that helped unveil mysteries of the Martian interior.

During these incidents, InSight discovered seismic waves moving into the Martian core for the first time. Researchers have now discovered that Mars has a liquid iron-alloy core that also contains lighter elements like sulfur and oxygen, as well as tiny quantities of hydrogen and carbon.

Scientists can gain a better knowledge of Mars' interior by studying how rocky planets like Earth and Mars develop, how they vary from one another, and what makes other planets hospitable for life.

In the Monday issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a research outlining the results was released.

According to research coauthor Vedran Lekic, associate professor of geology at the University of Maryland, College Park, "scientists first discovered the Earth's core by observing how seismic waves from earthquakes were affected by traveling through it in 1906." "More than a century later, we're using what we know about seismic waves on Mars. With InSight, we're finally learning what Mars' core is like and what separates it from Earth while also making it comparable.

Researchers calculated the density and chemical composition of the Martian core by measuring the time it took seismic waves produced by a single marsquake and a meteorite strike to pass through the core.

Planetary core provides information on evolution

The Martian core appears to be totally formed of liquid, unlike Earth's, which has a solid inner core and a liquid outer core. Mars' core has a radius of around 1,106 to 1125 miles (1,780 to 1,810 kilometers), and it is also somewhat denser and smaller than scientists had anticipated.

"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," research coauthor Nicholas Schmerr, associate professor of geology at the University of Maryland, College Park, said in a statement.

The production of life-sustaining circumstances or their absence might be the outcome of the formation and evolution processes. Due to the peculiarities of the Earth's core, it may produce a magnetic field that shields us from solar winds and keeps water in the atmosphere. Because Mars' core does not provide this barrier, the planet's surface is inhospitable to life.

Although there isn't a magnetic field on Mars right now, there are still signs of magnetism in the planet's crust. According to the findings, Mars formerly sustained a climate that may have been livable before changing through time to become an uninhabitable frozen desert.

In some respects, it's like a puzzle, according to Lekic. "For instance, the core of Mars contains minute amounts of hydrogen. In other words, there had to be some circumstances in which the hydrogen could have existed, and we need to comprehend those circumstances in order to comprehend how Mars changed through time to become the planet it is today.

The initial plan was for the InSight mission, the first to investigate Mars' innards, to endure for only around two years. However, NASA decided to prolong the mission by two more years.

"The extra mission time certainly paid off," said Dr. Jessica Irving, senior lecturer in Earth sciences at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom, who is the principal author of the research.

"We have recorded the first evidence of seismic waves moving through Mars's core. We have been able to investigate the Martian core using seismic waves thanks to two seismic signals—one from a very far-off marsquake and the other from a meteorite impact on the opposite side of the planet. Now that we've heard it, we've been listening for energy moving through the center of another planet.

When dust prevented the InSight project's solar panels from receiving the requisite sunlight in December 2022, the mission came to an end and became quiet. However, the wealth of information the lander gathered over its four years on the surface of Mars has altered how scientists think about the planet.

For many years to come, InSight will continue to have an impact on how we comprehend the genesis and development of Mars and other planets, according to Lekic.