RESEARCHERS use an incredible amount of wind on Mars to map the first complete picture of how it was formed three billion years ago.
The team used instruments aboard NASA’s InSight lander probe to install a seismometer to determine what lies beneath the surface of the red planet.
The Swiss Seismological Service (SED) and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH) have been analyzing ‘earthquakes’ that have been rippling through the planet since 2018.
Having gained an understanding of the composition of Mars’ core, its mantle and the thickness of its crust, they have now been able to go a step further.
Scientists have managed to cast a glance beneath the planet’s surface and into three billion years of history by listening to the sound of wind echoing through the layers of earth and rock near the planet’s equator.
The Swiss geophysicists used the lander’s sensitive instruments to measure vibrations on the surface, which are waves deep below.
Cedric Schmelzbach, of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH), explained: “We used a technique developed here on Earth to characterize earthquake risk sites and to study the substructure structure.”
He told Space.com: “The technique is based on ambient vibrations.
“On Earth, you have the oceans, the winds that make the earth shake all the time, and the tremor you measure at a given time has a touch of the subsoil.”
Based on the data they collected, the experts found that the top three meters are made of sand, while the next 20 meters below the surface are loose material.
This consists of volcanic rock, which those discovered have been cracked by meteorite impacts.
Below this are lava flows, divided by sediments that formed when Mars experienced cold and dry conditions.
Swiss scientists believe that the highest lava flows were deposited about 1.7 billion years ago, while the deepest ones were deposited as far back as 3.6 billion years ago – when Mars experienced much more volcanic activity.
Schmelzbach added: “We are still working on how to interpret it and how to date how old this layer is.
“But it tells us that the geological history at that site is probably more complicated than we originally thought, and that several processes had probably occurred earlier at that site.”
RED PLANET PIONEERS
The team found that “the resolution gets rougher the deeper we get,” by diving under the craters and plains of the red planet.
The revolutionary wind mapping technique has provided an extraordinary insight into the evolution of Mars.
Geophysicists hope to use the lander’s tools to dive deeper into the future and potentially study the planet’s crust.
“We have a kind of blind zone there at the moment,” Schmelzbach said.
Previous studies have suggested that Mars’ core, mantle, and crust have striking differences rather than mirroring each other.
Both planets had abundant oceans and rich atmospheres until Mars lost its protective magnetic field.
The solar winds then slowly but surely removed the red planet from its atmosphere as it saw it become the parched planet we know today.
Schmelzbach said this means that Mars is much quieter than Earth and has a much weaker wind.