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Marsquakes Help NASA's InSight Lander Calculate the Magnitude of Red Planet's Molten Core

File image of Mars.

File image of Mars.

Due to the turbulent atmosphere and frequent dust storms on Mars, NASA's Insight lander is more sensitive at tracing these quakes at night when there is less atmospheric disturbance.

Mars has always been a subject of fascination for space scientists and Astro-enthusiasts. After analysing what lies on the surface of the planet with various rovers from different countries, it’s time to look deeper. NASA’s InSight lander is currently attempting to study very heart of the planet — its molten core. The device has used seismic waves and bounced them off the planet’s interior to measure the size of its core. This is a first of its kind experiment on our neighbour planet.

InSight has been on the Red Planet since 2018 and measured around 500 marsquakes. During these tremors, the lander measures the seismic waves created. First, the ones near the surface and travelling in a relatively straight line from the origin to the lander. Next, those that bounce around within the planet before reaching the detectors. With these, it creates a seismogram of the quake-activity.

The data suggests most of these waves bounce off between the core and the mantle. Using the time it took for them to bounce after the first surface tremors and direction, the team calculated Mars’s core must have a radius of about 1810 to 1860 kilometres. Simon Stähler at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich led this study and presented the result at the virtual Lunar and Planetary Science Conference.

However, most observations point to the core being molten, much like Earth, the new result is higher than previously estimated. Stähler suggests the core could hold a rich treasure trove of lighter elements like Oxygen, much more than previously supposed.

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Due to the turbulent atmosphere and frequent dust storms on Mars, Insight is more sensitive at tracing these quakes at night when there is less atmospheric disturbance. The team believes there will more quakes in the coming months, opening up more opportunities for research.