The composition of Mars and its origin may soon be discovered, scientists have revealed.

Researchers from the University of Tokyo have begun working on Earth-based experiments that will examine the composition of Mars’ core.

This will uncover the mystery of the red planet’s seismic properties for the first time. While there is currently much excitement about the idea of humans landing on Mars, this research will be done without ever setting foot on the Martian surface.

Computer simulations and Earth-based experiments alone will work to reveal the inner-workings of our celestial neighbour.

Keisuke Nishida, Assistant Professor from the University of Tokyo, leading the project writes: “The exploration of the deep interiors of Earth, Mars and other planets is one of the great frontiers of science.

“It’s fascinating partly because of the daunting scales involved, but also because of how we investigate them safely from the surface of the Earth.”

UNITED STATES - APRIL 22:  This picture from one of the Viking landers shows a rock-strewn vista, with rocks of all sizes, and the familiar red colouration of the Martian surface. Two Viking spacecraft landed on the surface of Mars in 1976. Viking 1, launched on 20th August 1975, touched down in the Chryse Planitia region on 20th July 1976, and Viking 2, launched on 9th September 1975, landed in the Utopia Planetia region on 3rd September 1976. They returned many pictures of the Martian surface as well as carrying out experiments to search for life. No life forms were found.  (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES – APRIL 22: This picture from one of the Viking landers shows a rock-strewn vista, with rocks of all sizes, and the familiar red colouration of the Martian surface. Two Viking spacecraft landed on the surface of Mars in 1976. Viking 1, launched on 20th August 1975, touched down in the Chryse Planitia region on 20th July 1976, and Viking 2, launched on 9th September 1975, landed in the Utopia Planetia region on 3rd September 1976. They returned many pictures of the Martian surface as well as carrying out experiments to search for life. No life forms were found. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)

What is Mars made of?

Martian soil is rich with iron oxide, better known as rust. This is what gives Mars its distinctive orange-reddish colour.

The core of Mars is less well-known. It is thought to be made of an iron-sulphur alloy, but evidence is still limited. Seismic activity on Mars is also still relatively unknown.

 

As Nishida says: “NASA’s Insight probe is already on Mars collecting seismic readings. However, even with the seismic data there was an important missing piece of information without which the data could not be interpreted.

“We needed to know the seismic properties of the iron-sulphur alloy thought to make up the core of Mars.”

The experiment

Nishida and his team simulated the core of Mars by subjecting a sample of iron-sulphur alloy to 13 giga-pascals of pressure, the same pressure Mars’ core would experience. A special device called a Kawai-type multi-anvil press was used to compress the sample to such a high pressure.

X-rays were then used to image the sample to understand more about its properties.

Hopeful outcomes

Knowing the composition of Mars could tell us more about its formation 4.5 billion years ago. Nishida hopes that his team’s data will help us to understand more about the origin of the red planet.

“If Mars’ core includes silicon and oxygen, it suggests that, like the Earth, Mars suffered a huge impact event as it formed. So, what is Mars made of and how was it formed? I think we are about to find out.”

So, what secrets will Mars reveal as this research develops? Only time will tell.

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