NASA has discovered what the heart of Mars looks like

Evidence gathered thanks to the InSight lander and published in three studies in Science. NASA has discovered what the heart of Mars looks like.

The seismometer on NASA's stationary InSight space lander has revealed for the first time some details about the depth and composition of the crust, mantle and core of the planet Mars.

The information gathered by the vehicle was the basis for three studies published in the scientific journal Science. The most interesting discovery involves the center of Mars, which may be molten. Compared to Earth, this would be a first. The outer core of our common home is in fact molten, while inner core is solid.

Bruce Banerdt of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which leads the InSight mission, said that "the information contained in these documents is what we hoped to get," when "ten years ago," it was decided to set up the project. The three studies therefore "represent the culmination of all the work and concerns of the last decade."

How the InSight lander analyzed the center of Mars

But how did we manage to infer the internal structure of Mars without digging? InSight's seismograph can intercept seismic waves from earthquakes occurring hundreds of thousands of miles away on the fourth planet in the Solar System.

In the research phases, information was collected on 733 separate earthquakes of which 35, ranging from a magnitude of 3.0 to 4.0, provided data for the three articles. Seismic waves, in fact, vary in shape and speed, depending on the materials within which they propagate.

Based on the evidence collected, it was discovered that the crust of Mars is thinner than expected, plus it may have two or three sublayers. It extends up to 20 kilometers - if there are two sublayers - or 37 kilometers - if there are three. Beneath the crust is the mantle, which is 1,560 kilometers thick, then the core, which has a radius of 1,830 kilometers and is located exactly at the center of the Red Planet.

Why the latest discoveries about the Red Planet are important

The formation of this structure dates back tens of millions of years and may help improve our understanding of how all rocky planets, including the one on which we live, formed.

"It took scientists hundreds of years to measure the Earth's core; after the Apollo missions, it took 40 years to measure the Moon's core. InSight took only two years to measure the core of Mars," said Simon Stähler of ETH Zurich University, one of the study's authors.

Search on Mars is proceeding apace. Strange auroras have been observed on the "neighboring" planet. To understand its importance, it is useful to know the history of the ditching.

Giuseppe Giordano