For the first time ever, scientists have mapped out a detailed image of Mars' inner layers. NASA's InSight revealed some surprising characteristics about the Red Planet's core.
NASA InSight Mars Mission
InSight is NASA's Mars lander designed to give the Red Planet "its first thorough check up," NASA explained. Short for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport, It is the first outer space robotic explorer to study the inner workings of Mars in depth.
There have been quite a number of missions studying the surface of Mars, but InSight is the first dedicated NASA Mars mission set out to learn more about the Red Planet's interior.
Understanding Mars' crust, mantle, and core could answer some key questions about the early formations as well as the evolutions of rocky planets in the solar system. The other three terrestrial planets are Mercury, Venus and Earth.
Landing on Mars on November 26 of 2018, it has made the smooth plains of Elysium Planitia its home. InSight has been studying the interior of Mars by taking the planet's vital signs. After years of measuring the tectonic activity and studying the interior structure of the Red Planet, the Mars lander was able to send back data to scientists to determine how Mars looks inside.
Marsquakes provide valuable insight. The seismometer on @NASAInSight revealed details about Mars’ deep interior, including that it has a molten core. Researchers analyzed quake data to learn more about the depth & composition of the planet’s inner layers. https://t.co/exOdRpNyGo pic.twitter.com/yC0l0lJ1cL— NASA JPL (@NASAJPL) July 23, 2021
The Deep Interior of Mars: What Does the Center of Mars Look Like?
Like Earth, the Red Planet heated up as it formed from the dust and larger clumps of meteoritic material orbiting the Sun that helped shake our early solar system, NASA shared.
As the planets matured, over the first tens of millions of years, the planet separated into three distinct layers--the crust, mantle and core--in a process called differentiation. Part of InSight's mission was to measure the depth, size, and structure of these layers.
I’ve mapped the interior of Mars for the first time and found some surprises:— NASA InSight (@NASAInSight) July 22, 2021
- Crust: thinner than expected, with maybe two or three sub-layers
- Mantle: a single layer (969 mi/1,560 km), simpler than Earth’s
- Core: larger than expected (1,137 mi/1,830 km radius), and molten pic.twitter.com/cLgQVkwBnz
As New York Times described it, Mars is one big candy treat. Its crust is like two or three layers of volcanic chocolate covering the mantle below, which has a rigid toffee-like filling that wraps around the planet's core. The core, meanwhile, is like a syrupy center. It is quite different from our Earth's solid but pliable mantle, liquid outer core, and solid inner core.
Mars is six times less voluminous and quite small possibly because of the slight shrinking of the planet as it continues to cool. This then suggests that the current Mars is a relic of the early solar system.
To get to where scientists are now with constructing a model of Mars from the core outwards has been two years in the making, studying the planet's magnetism, the seismic waves made by marsquakes as it travels through different materials inside the planet, its wobble as it orbits the sun.
The scientist working with NASA's InSight Mars lander have also hosted a live stream sharing the new results and answered questions about the mission and how the findings help our understanding of the formation of planets moving forward.