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Credit: NASA/JPL

Save us a slice! NASA's Red Planet lander discovers Mars' crust is like a three-layer cake

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Dec 23, 2020, 10:48 PM EST (Updated)

For those of us with sweet tooths, the holiday season is a perpetual bliss of sugary delights, so it's in the spirit of these yuletide times that the folks at NASA have just unveiled an image of the internal composition of the Red Planet as something resembling a three-layered cake.

The data allowing for the examination of Mars' bakery-like makeup beneath its crust comes courtesy of the space agency's Insight Mars lander, which sent back to scientists the very first geologic dissection of another planet besides Earth.

The intrepid probe discovered that Mars consists of a three-layered crust comprised of different rock types stacked on top of each other just like a cosmic birthday cake. These revelations will aid astronomers, planetary geologists, and aerospace engineers in understanding more of the history of the Red Planet's murky origins and evolution.

Credit: NASA/JPL/Victor Tangermann

With the lander's difficulty in deploying and utilizing its digging "mole" probe in the Martian soil, Insight pivoted and luckily was able to garner details about the rocky layers using a domed seismometer provided by the French space agency, Centre National d'Études Spatiales (CNES).

By capturing the nature of multiple storms of seismic waves, scientists back home were able to analyze the thickness of each Mars slice and determine the waves' time duration and resistant path via these marsquakes.

First launched in May of 2018, InSight, an acronym for the Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport mission, is a specialized robotic lander engineered to investigate the mysteries of Mars' makeup.

Its main mission objectives are to explore the neighboring planet's deep interior. Landing in the Elysium Planitia region near the Martian equator on Nov. 26, 2018, it continues to monitor and collate data that help us understand the formation of the rocky planets of the inner solar system billions of years earlier.

Credit: NASA/JPL

This past year, InSight's fixed position has detected hundreds of small quakes, the majority of which were no greater than magnitude 3.7, and collected the most comprehensive weather data of any previous surface mission dropped on Mars.

"After studying over 480 marsquakes, we have enough data to start answering some of these big questions,” said NASA researcher and InSight principal investigator, Bruce Banerdt.

Preliminary research and number crunching estimates that each of Mars' planetary layers measures between 12 to 23 miles thick, which is considerably thicker than Earth's oceanic crust but thinner than our planet's continental layer.

"Sometimes you get big flashes of amazing information, but most of the time you're teasing out what nature has to tell you," Banerdt added. "It's more like trying to follow a trail of tricky clues than having the answers presented to us in a nicely wrapped-up package."