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Mars: Sounds Detected by NASA’s Insight Lander May Point to a Planet Active with Volcanic Activity

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Scientists now know that things happen on Mars quite regularly, adding to the mounting evidence that the Red Planet is far from dead.

New research has revealed previously undetected earthquakes beneath the surface of Mars, which experts believe is evidence that houses a sea of ​​magma in its mantle.

They believe the best explanation for the “Marsquakes” is continued volcanic activity beneath the dusty, barren surface of Mars, and they believe the planet is more volcanic and seismically active than previously thought.

For a long time, experts thought there wasn’t much going on inside Mars, but researchers at the Australian National University made their discovery after sifting through data from NASA’s InSight Mars lander.

New research has revealed previously undetected earthquakes beneath the surface of Mars, which experts believe is evidence that it harbors a sea of ​​magma in its mantle. Pictured is an artistic rendition of the InSight lander, which has been ‘taking the pulse of Mars’ since landing on the planet in 2018

Using two unconventional techniques only recently applied to geophysics, experts discovered 47 new seismic events originating from an area on Mars called the Cerberus Fossae (pictured)

Using two unconventional techniques only recently applied to geophysics, experts discovered 47 new seismic events originating from an area on Mars called the Cerberus Fossae (pictured)

Researchers at the Australian National University made their discovery after sifting through data from NASA's InSight Mars lander.  Shown is InSight landing site and waveforms from two Marsquakes

Researchers at the Australian National University made their discovery after sifting through data from NASA’s InSight Mars lander. Shown is InSight landing site and waveforms from two Marsquakes

WAS MARS EVER HOME IN LIQUID WATER?

Evidence of water on Mars dates back to the Mariner 9 mission, which arrived in 1971. It revealed evidence of water erosion in riverbeds and canyons, as well as weather fronts and fog.

Viking orbiters that followed revolutionized our ideas about water on Mars by showing how floods broke through dams and cut deep valleys.

Mars is currently in the midst of an ice age, and before this study, scientists believed that liquid water could not exist on its surface.

In June 2013, Curiosity found strong evidence that water once flowed on Mars that was good enough to drink.

In September of the same year, the first shovel of soil analyzed by Curiosity revealed that fine materials on the planet’s surface contained two percent by weight of water.

In 2017, scientists gave the best estimates for water on Mars, claiming it once had more liquid H2O than the Arctic Ocean — and the planet has preserved these oceans for more than 1.5 billion years.

The findings suggest there was enough time and water for life to thrive on Mars, but over the past 3.7 billion years, the red planet has lost 87 percent of its water — leaving it bare and dry.

“Knowing that Mars’ mantle is still active is crucial to our understanding of how Mars evolved as a planet,” said geophysicist Hrvoje Tkalčić of the Australian National University in Australia.

“It can help us answer fundamental questions about the solar system and the state of the core, mantle and evolution of Mars’ currently missing magnetic field.”

Mars has very little in the way of a magnetic field, indicating a lack of internal activity.

Planetary magnetic fields are usually generated within the planet by something called a dynamo – a rotating, convective and electrically conductive fluid that converts kinetic energy into magnetic energy, causing a magnetic field to spin into space.

Earth’s magnetic field protects us from cosmic rays that could destroy life, but on Mars, radiation levels are much higher, despite the planet being farther from the sun.

“All life on Earth is possible because of the Earth’s magnetic field and its ability to shield us from cosmic rays, so without a magnetic field, life as we know it simply wouldn’t be possible,” Tkalčić said.

However, when NASA’s InSight lander arrived in November 2018 and began “measuring” the pulse of Mars, it found that the planet was rumbling.

So far, it has detected hundreds of Marsquakes, but Tkalčić and his colleague, geophysicist Weijia Sun of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, wanted to look for earthquakes that might have gone undetected in the InSight data.

Using two unconventional techniques, only recently applied to geophysics, the duo discovered 47 new seismic events from an area of ​​Mars called the Cerberus Fossae.

Most resemble the waveforms of two Cerberus Fossae quakes that happened in May and July 2019, suggesting that the smaller quakes are related to the larger ones.

While looking for the cause of the earthquakes, the researchers found that there was no pattern in their timing, which ruled out the Martian moon Phobos having an influence.

“We found that these Marsquakes occurred repeatedly at all times of the Martian day, while Marsquakes detected and reported by NASA in the past appeared to have occurred only in the middle of the night, when the planet is quieter,” said Tkalčić.

Since its arrival in November 2018, the InSight lander has been working on several missions orbiting Mars and roaming the Earth's surface, including the Curiosity rover

Since its arrival in November 2018, the InSight lander has been working on several missions orbiting Mars and roaming the Earth’s surface, including the Curiosity rover

“We can therefore assume that the movement of molten rock in the Martian mantle is the trigger for these 47 newly discovered Marsquakes under the Cerberus Fossae region.”

Previous research on the Cerberus Fossae has already suggested that the region was volcanically active for the past 10 million years.

If Mars is more volcanically and seismically active than previously thought, as Tkalčić and Sun believe, it would change the way scientists see its past, present and future.

“The Marsquakes indirectly help us understand if there is convection in the planet’s interior, and if this convection does occur, which it appears to be based on our findings, then there must be some other mechanism at play that prevents a magnetic field developing on Mars,’ Tkalčić said.

“Understanding Mars’ magnetic field, how it evolved and at what stage of the planet’s history it stopped is obviously important for future missions and is critical if scientists hope to establish human life on Mars one day.”

The research was published in nature communication.

WHAT ARE THE THREE KEY TOOLS OF INSIGHT?

The lander that could reveal how Earth formed: InSight lander ready to land on Mars on November 26

The lander that could reveal how Earth formed: InSight lander ready to land on Mars on November 26

Three main instruments allow the InSight lander to take ‘the pulse’ of the red planet:

seismometer: The InSight lander wears a seismometerSEIS, which listens to the pulse of Mars.

The seismometer records the waves that travel through a planet’s internal structure.

Studying seismic waves tells us what could be causing the waves.

On Mars, scientists suspect that the culprits could be Marsquakes, or meteorites hitting the surface.

Heat probe: InSight’s heat flow probe, HP3, digs deeper than any other shovel, drill or probe on Mars before.

It will investigate how much heat is still flowing out of Mars.

Radio antennas: Like Earth, Mars wobbles a little as it spins on its axis.

To study this, two radio antennas, part of the RISE instrument, closely track the location of the lander.

This helps scientists test the planet’s reflexes and tells them how its deep internal structure affects the planet’s motion around the sun.

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