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Current Affairs

Study on Mars’ magnetic field

Date: 05 May 2020 Tags: Space

Issue

A group of researchers was able to discover the new timeline of Mars’ ancient magnetic field. According to the researchers, the magnetic field on the Red Planet may have formed much earlier than previously thought.

 

Background

The new study was carried out by researchers using data collected by NASA’s Mars Atmospheric and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft.

 

Details

  • The development of a magnetic field plays a huge role in the evolution of a planet. It forms through a dynamo, which is a flow of molten metal within the planet's core that produces an electrical current. On Earth, the dynamo is responsible for making needles of compasses point north.

  • On Mars, however, data collected on large basins that formed about 3.9 billion years ago did not show signs of magnetism, which indicates that the planet’s magnetic field has been extinct for a long time. Many scientists believe that Mars’ current state was caused by the disappearance of its magnetic field.

  • Clues about a planet’s magnetic history lie in magnetized rocks on and beneath its surface. Rock is like a tape recorder, especially volcanic rocks.

  • They begin as lava, but as they cool and solidify in the presence of a magnetic field, minerals within the rocks align themselves with the global magnetic field. By dating these rocks, scientists can estimate if a dynamo was active at the time the rock was emplaced.

  • However, after analyzing new information collected by Maven, the researchers detected signs of low-intensity magnetic fields near the Borealis Basin, which is located in Mars’ northern hemisphere. This region, which formed about 4.5 billion years ago, is regarded as one of the oldest features on Mars.

  • Aside from the Borealis Basin, the researchers also came across evidence of a magnetic field in the Lucus Planum lava flow, which formed about 3.7 billion years ago.

  • The researchers offer two possible explanations for the absence of magnetic fields over the basins: the dynamo may have stopped before the basins formed and then re-started before Lucus Planum formed, or the impacts that created the basins simply displaced the portion of crust containing minerals that can carry strong magnetism.

  • The discovery of traces of magnetism in these regions provides a clear timeline regarding the magnetic field activity on Mars. By studying the behaviour of Mars’ dynamo, the researchers are hoping to uncover valuable information regarding the planet’s evolution and how it ended up as a barren and hostile world.

  • The dynamo tells us about the planet's thermal history, its evolution, and how it got to where it is today, and it is unique for each of the terrestrial planets -- Earth, Mars, Venus and Mercury.