New research sheds light on volcanic activity beneath the surface of the Red Planet.
Recently, 47 new ‘marsquakes’ (Mars earthquakes) were detected by Professor Hrvoj Tkalčić of the Australian National University and Professor Weijia Sun of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. This discovery suggests that Mars is more seismically active than previously thought.
The findings also provide clues about the composition of Mars and how other rocky planets formed in our solar system billions of years ago.
I can feel Mars moving beneath my feet
First, if you’re wondering how to measure earthquakes on Mars, the answer is seemingly simple.
Send a robot there!
Hrvoj and Weijia’s research was based on seismic data collected by NASA’s InSight Mars landing module.
InSight is the first space robotic explorer to study the crust, mantle and core of the Red Planet in depth.
InSight instruments, including a seismometer, have been examining Martian subsurface surfaces since November 2018.
Tectonic forces were previously thought to be responsible for the tremors. But the new study questions this.
All the earthquakes discovered by Hrvoje and Weijia took place in the same area, which suggests that it was caused by the movement of magma in the Martian mantle (try to say it fast!)
“Both magmatic and tectonic processes are caused by the planet’s internal activity,” says Hrvoje. “But Mars has a single tectonic plate, while Earth has more than a dozen.” So the dynamics are completely different. “
Composing a picture
The study of seismic data allows geophysicists to look inside the planet.
“Just like on Earth, earthquakes generate seismic waves that move inside the planet,” says Hrvoje.
“These waves are interpreted by sophisticated imaging methods, much like a doctor uses an X-ray to image the human body.”
Like doctors, geophysicists can use these images to understand how things work and how the planet came into being. An important area of study is the magnetic field of Mars – or lack thereof.
The Earth’s magnetic field is a huge comet-shaped “bubble” that protects our planet from harmful cosmic rays. Without it, the Earth would be uninhabitable.
“Mars once had a magnetic field, but it died millions of years ago,” says Hrvoje.
“It has had disastrous consequences for the potential for development and the preservation of life.”
So when and why did he die? These are big questions, Hrvoje and Weijia hope their work will help answer them.
“If we can prove that Mars’ mantle is still mobile, we will find important guidelines for scientists studying the paleomagnetic field of Mars and how long the Red Planet may have been habitable,” says Hrvoje.
Deeper than ever
There is a long way to go to humanity’s mission to understand Mars.
“We’re still in the discovery phase, and that’s what makes this field exciting!” says Hrvoje.
Since the publication of Hrvoj and Weijia’s research, InSight has detected the largest earthquake ever recorded on another planet. The estimated magnitude 5 earthquake was recorded on May 4. (Previously, the largest recorded earthquake was estimated to have a magnitude of 4.2 magnitude on August 25, 2021.)
“This is extremely important because larger earthquakes often produce less ambiguous signals,” says Hrvoje.
“The quake will be used to explore even deeper into Mars and to further illuminate the mantle.”
If Mars is not as dead as we thought, it has implications for its future and history – especially if scientists hope to one day establish life on the Red Planet.
This article was originally published on Particle. Read the original article.
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