Over the past several decades, we’ve continued to learn more and more about the Martian world. Rovers like Curiosity and Perseverance help us learn more about ancient riverbeds and the possibility that life once existed on the Red Planet. And now, data captured by NASA’s now-retired InSight lander could teach us more about the core of Mars.
Previously, it was believed that Mars’s core could be a large object that isn’t very dense. That data was captured by InSight’s Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure mission. However, new research into some of InSight’s data suggests that the object believed to make up Mars’s core is actually just a thick, molten rock layer surrounding a much smaller inner core made of molten iron.
To fully understand how we ended up here, we have to look at previous theories that Mars was once covered in a massive ocean of magma, which eventually formed into a heterogeneous mantle of iron, silicates, and radioactive elements. All of which went on to produce heat. While InSight’s seismic data supported this possibility, it didn’t consider the volatility of those elements and how easily they would evaporate when heated enough.
That means that much of that lighter material should have been lost from the magma ocean due to heat. So, how did the core of Mars end up so light? That’s a question that scientists can’t quite answer just yet. But, the new research and investigations of InSight’s data suggest that the core of the planet could be much smaller and denser than the layer of thick, molten rock that InSight has already detected.
Virtually dissecting the planet will no doubt help us better understand the evolution of rocky planets like Mars and Earth. It could even help us better understand how Mars lost its magnetic field four billion years ago, something scientists have been itching to figure out.