Scientists now know that things break on Mars at regular intervals, adding more and more evidence that the red planet is far from dead.
New research has revealed previously undiscovered earthquakes below the surface of Mars, which experts believe are evidence that it hosts a sea of magma in its mantle.
They believe that the best explanation for the ‘Mars quakes’ is ongoing volcanic activity beneath the dusty, barren surface of Mars, and believe that the planet is more volcanically and seismically active than first thought.
For a long time, experts believed that not much happened inside Mars, but researchers at the Australian National University made their findings after combing data from NASA’s InSight Mars lander.
New research has revealed previously undiscovered earthquakes below the surface of Mars, which experts believe is proof that it hosts a sea of magma in its mantle. The picture shows an artist’s rendering of the InSight lander, which has’ taken Mars’ pulse ‘since landing on the planet in 2018
Using two unconventional techniques, only recently applied to geophysics, experts discovered 47 new seismic events coming from a region on Mars called Cerberus Fossae (pictured)
Researchers at the Australian National University made their findings after combing data from NASA’s InSight Mars lander. Pictured is the landing site of InSight and waveforms of two Marsquakes
WAS MARCH EVER HOME FOR FLOATING WATER?
Evidence for water on Mars goes back to the Mariner 9 mission, which arrived in 1971. It revealed traces of water erosion in river beds and gorges as well as weather fronts and fogs.
Viking orbits that followed caused a revolution in our ideas of water on Mars by showing how floods broke through dams and carved deep valleys.
Mars is currently in the middle of an ice age, and prior to this study, scientists believed that liquid water could not exist on its surface.
In June 2013, Curiosity found strong evidence that water good enough to drink once flowed on Mars.
In September of that year, the first scoop of soil analyzed by Curiosity revealed that fine materials on the planet’s surface contain two weight percent water.
In 2017, scientists provided the best estimates for water on Mars, claiming that it once had more liquid H2O than the Arctic Ocean – and the planet held these oceans for more than 1.5 billion years.
The results suggest that there was plenty of time and water for life on Mars to thrive, but over the last 3.7 billion years, the red planet has lost 87 percent of its water – leaving it barren and dry.
“Knowing that the Martian mantle is still active is crucial to our understanding of how Mars evolved as a planet,” said geophysicist Hrvoje Tkalčić of the Australian National University of Australia.
‘It can help us answer basic questions about the solar system and the state of Mars’ core, mantle and the evolution of its currently missing magnetic field.’
Mars has very little in the way of a magnetic field, suggesting a lack of internal activity.
Planetary magnetic fields are usually generated inside the planet by something called a dynamo – a rotating, convection and electrically conductive fluid that converts kinetic energy into magnetic energy and spins a magnetic field into space.
The Earth’s magnetic field protects us from cosmic radiation that can destroy life, but on Mars, radiation levels are much higher despite the fact that the planet is further from the sun.
“All life on Earth is possible because of the Earth’s magnetic field and its ability to protect us from cosmic radiation, so without a magnetic field life as we know it would simply not be possible,” Tkalčić said.
But when NASA’s InSight lander arrived in November 2018 and began to ‘take Mars’ pulse’, it found out that the planet was rumbling.
So far, it has detected hundreds of Marsquakes, but Tkalčić and his colleague, geophysicist Weijia Sun from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, wanted to look for earthquakes that could have gone unnoticed in the InSight data.
Using two unconventional techniques, only recently applied to geophysics, the duo discovered 47 new seismic events coming from a region on Mars called Cerberus Fossae.
Most of them resemble the waveforms of two Cerberus Fossae earthquakes that occurred in May and July 2019, suggesting that the smaller earthquakes are related to the larger ones.
While trying to determine the cause of the earthquakes, the researchers discovered that there was no pattern at the time of them, which ruled out that the Martian Moon Phobos had any influence.
“We found that these Marsquakes repeatedly occurred at all times of Mars Day, whereas Marsquakes that were discovered and reported by NASA in the past appeared to have occurred only in the gloom and darkness of the night when the planet is quieter, “said Tkalčić.
Since arriving in November 2018, the InSight lander has been working on several missions orbiting Mars and orbiting the planet’s surface: including the Curiosity rover.
‘Therefore, we can assume that the movement of molten rock in the Martian mantle is the trigger for these 47 newly discovered Marsquakes under the Cerberus Fossae region.’
Previous research in Cerberus Fossae has already suggested that the region was volcanically active within the last 10 million years.
If Mars is more volcanically and seismically active than first thought, as Tkalčić and Sun believe, it would change the way scientists look at its past, present and future.
‘Mars quakes indirectly help us to understand whether convection occurs inside the planet’s interior, and if this convection occurs as it appears to be based on our findings, then there must be another mechanism at play that prevents a magnetic field evolving on Mars, ‘said Tkalčić.
‘Understanding Mars’ magnetic field, how it evolved, and at what stage of the planet’s history it stopped, is obviously important for future missions and is crucial if scientists one day hope to establish human life on Mars.’
The research is published in Nature Communications.
WHAT ARE INSIGHTS THREE KEY INSTRUMENTS?
The Lander That Could Reveal How the Earth Was Formed: The InSight Lander Set for Mars Landing on November 26
Three key instruments allow the InSight lander to ‘take the pulse’ of the red planet:
Seismometer: The InSight lander carries one seismometerSEIS, listening to Mars’ pulse.
The seismometer detects the waves traveling through the inner structure of a planet.
Studying seismic waves tells us what can create the waves.
On Mars, scientists suspect the culprits may be Martian earthquakes or meteorites hitting the surface.
Heat probe: InSight’s heat flow probe, HP3, drills deeper than any other ladle, drill or probe on Mars before that.
It will examine how much heat is still flowing out of Mars.
Radio antennas: Like Earth, Mars oscillates slightly as it rotates about its axis.
To study this, two radio antennas, part of the RISE instrument, track the location of the lander very precisely.
This helps scientists test the planet’s reflections and tells them how the deep inner structure affects the planet’s motion around the Sun.