Published: Thu, February 27, 2020
Sci-tech | By Patricia Wade

Mars Lander Reveals Seismic Activity, Magnetized Crust

Mars Lander Reveals Seismic Activity, Magnetized Crust

"We need to know what the velocities are to properly work out a distance", explained Prof Pike whose team developed the high-frequency sensors in InSight's seismometer package.

The $850 million InSight spacecraft landed near the Martian equator in November 2018, kicking off a surface mission expected to last at least one Martian year (which is almost two Earth years). The findings reveal a world of quakes, volcanism and magnetic echoes. The results were published in a special issue of the journal Nature Geoscience on February 24, 2020.

What kind of quakes were detected on Mars?

The Viking 2 lander made attempts to measure marsquakes 38 year ago but was unsuccessful. "By placing the first magnetic sensor at the surface, we have gained valuable new clues about the interior structure and upper atmosphere of Mars that will help us understand how it - and other planets like it - formed". The strongest of the quakes were a little less than magnitude 4, meaning they would be felt on the surface perhaps dozens of miles (km) from the epicenter but probably would not do much damage. It might sound a lot, but would pose very little risk for future astronauts on Mars unless they were unfortunate enough to be very close to the epicentre of a quake.

The researchers had hoped to register bigger quakes, which might have given them a extra detailed take a look at the inside of the planet - and even doubtlessly the core - however that hasn't occurred but.

"We've finally, for the first time, established that Mars is a seismically active planet", he said during a press event, according to Space.com.

The few events for which the researchers have been able to locate the origin-including two of the larger marsquakes-took place in a region known as Cerberus Fossae, a particularly "exciting" result, in the eyes of Suzanne Smrekar, deputy project scientist for the InSight mission.

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That variability could include crust containing radiogenic materials like uranium, which could cause localized heating.

As additional marsquake data accumulates, we will learn more about the exact locations of each event, and how they relate to what we can see in the surface landscape.

Those measurements also suggest the top 5 to 7 miles of the crust is highly altered or fractured, although how much is due to impacts versus other causes remains unknown. "We infer magnetised rocks beneath the surface, within ~150km of the landing site, consistent with a past dynamo with Earth-like strength". Because the planet cools down, Banerdt says, it contracts and the brittle crust of the planet cracks, inflicting the floor to shudder.

That those rock blocks have remained magnetized all these years also reveals something about their thermal history.

Because the subsurface of Mars didn't heat up again to release that magnetization, the rocks remained the same ever since, said Catherine Johnson, the magnetometer co-investigator. The measurements vary by day and night; they also tend to pulse around midnight. Usually, a space mission objective is to last at least one Mars year (equivalent to roughly two Earth years). Scientists included it chiefly to monitor atmospheric activity that might add noise to seismometer data.

Dr Banerdt said he remained hopeful: "It's the nature of statistics - sometimes things are clustered, sometimes there's large gaps in between".

Together with related developments, the news highlights the involvement of Canadian scientists in two Mars missions - one now revealing the planet's enigmatic interior and another that will try to retrieve samples of Martian rocks in hopes of determining whether it once harboured life.

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