What is Mars Made Of? | Composition of Planet Mars

What is Mars Made Of? | Composition of Planet Mars

What is Mars Made Of? | Composition of Planet Mars

Search RSS
News Tech Spaceflight Science & Astronomy More

TRENDING
On This Day in Space

Full Moon

SpaceX

Launch Calendar

Read ‘All About Space’

Expert Voices
What is Mars Made Of? | Composition of Planet Mars
By Tim Sharp December 12, 2017 Science & Astronomy

Mars is the “Red Planet” for a very good reason: its surface is made of a thick layer of oxidized iron dust and rocks of the same color. Maybe another name for Mars could be “Rusty.” But the ruddy surface does not tell the whole story of the composition of this world.

Dusty crust
The dust that covers the surface of Mars is fine like talcum powder. Beneath the layer of dust, the Martian crust consists mostly of volcanic basalt rock. The soil of Mars also holds nutrients such as sodium, potassium, chloride and magnesium. The crust is between 6 and 30 miles (10 and 50 kilometers) thick, according to NASA.

Mars’ crust is thought to be one piece. Unlike Earth, the red planet has no tectonic plates that ride on the mantle to reshape the terrain. Since there is little to no movement in the crust, molten rock flowed to the surface at the same point for successive eruptions, building up into the huge volcanoes that dot the Martian surface.

Dusty, glass-rich sand dunes like these found just south of the north polar ice cap could cover much of Mars. (False color image)

Dusty, glass-rich sand dunes like these found just south of the north polar ice cap could cover much of Mars. (False color image)(Image credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona)
That doesn’t mean the crust sits quietly. New research has found that powerful landslides may speed down Martian slopes at up to 450 mph (725 km/h).

“The calculated velocity of landslides (often well in excess of 100 m/s and up to 200 m/s at peak) compares well with velocity estimates based on the run-up of the landslides on mounds,” researchers wrote in a study published in The European Physical Journal Plus.

“We conclude that ice may have been an important medium of lubrication of landslides on Mars, even in equatorial areas like Valles Marineris” (the Grand Canyon of Mars).

Any life that ever existed on Mars would have had to cope with the radiation, perhaps by thriving underground. While astronomers continue to search for past or present signs of biology on Mars, no convincing evidence has yet been found.

Mantle and core
Evidence suggests there have been no volcanic eruptions for millions of years, however. The mantle that lies beneath the crust is largely dormant. It is made up primarily of silicon, oxygen, iron, and magnesium and probably has the consistency of soft rocky paste. It is probably about 770 to 1,170 miles (1,240 to 1,880 km) thick, according to NASA.

The center of Mars likely has a solid core composed of iron, nickel and sulfur. It is estimated to be between 930 and 1,300 miles (1,500 and 2,100 km) in diameter. The core does not move, and therefore Mars lacks a planet-wide magnetic field. Instead, it has sporadic field lines that scientists have nicknamed “Christmas Lights.” Without a global magnetic field, radiation bombards the planet making it relatively inhospitable compared to Earth. [Infographic: Inside Planet Mars]

Water and atmosphere
Mars is too cold for liquid water to exist for any length of time, but features on the surface suggest that water once flowed on Mars. Today, water exists in the form of ice in the soil, and in sheets of ice in the polar ice caps. The temperature on Mars ranges from 70 degrees Fahrenheit (20 degrees Celsius) to about minus 225 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 153 degrees Celsius).

NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter snapped this photo of a dust devil on the Red Planet on Feb. 16, 2012.

NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter snapped this photo of a dust devil on the Red Planet on Feb. 16, 2012.(Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona)

The atmosphere of Mars is too thin to easily support life as we know it. It is about 95 percent carbon dioxide. The extremely thin air on Mars can also become very dusty. Dust from the planet’s surface is routinely kicked up into the atmosphere by giant dust devils— not unlike tornadoes on Earth. At times, the red planet can be partly or wholly consumed by dust storms.

At times, it even snows on Mars. The Martian snowflakes, made of carbon dioxide rather than water, are thought to be about the size of red blood cells. Flakes in the north measure between 8 to 22 microns and those in the south are just 4 to 13 microns.

Although the surface of Mars today is inhospitable for life as we know it, planetary scientists are finding signs that suggest the world may have been hospitable in the past. For instance, NASA’s Curiosity rover discovered the element boron, which plays a role in stabilizing sugars needed to make RNA, a key for life.

“Because borates may play an important role in making RNA — one of the building blocks of life — finding boron on Mars further opens the possibility that life could have once arisen on the planet,” Patrick Gasda, a postdoctoral researcher at Los Alamos National Laboratory in Los Alamos, New Mexico and lead author of the study, said in a statement.

“Essentially, this tells us that the conditions from which life could have potentially grown may have existed on ancient Mars, independent from Earth.”

Additional reporting by Nola Taylor Redd, Space.com contributor

Have a news tip, correction or comment? Let us know at community@space.com.

MORE ABOUT…
Hubble Captures Stunning Fireworks of Exploding Star
European Mars Lander Suffers Parachute Damage in Test
SEE MORE RELATED
LATEST
One-of-a-Kind Copy of Galileo’s Book That Upended the Earth-Centric View of the Universe Was a Fraud.
SEE MORE LATEST
Mars Photos by Curiosity Rover Teeming with ‘UFOs’
Two weeks in, NASA’s Curiosity rover has already caught several alleged UFOs and other anomalies on camera, according to the fringe sector of the Internet.
Space
Forget Robots, 5G And Electric Cars – This Is The Next Big Thing
Stansberry Research Subscription
|
Sponsored
Switch and save an average of $699. Savings make me smile.
Progressive
|
Sponsored
10 Longest-Range Electric Cars of 2019
Kelley Blue Book
|
Sponsored
You Should Never Shop on Amazon Without Using This Trick – Here’s Why
Honey
|
Sponsored
Top Cardiologist: It’s Like Giving Your Body A New “Battery”
Gundry MD | Supplements
|
Sponsored
Where Is Starman? Track Elon Musk’s Roadster as It Zooms Through Space
Space
Phobos: Facts About the Doomed Martian Moon
Space
Man Who Called NVIDIA’s Rise Makes Bold 5G Prediction
The Legacy Report
|
Sponsored
Play this for 1 minute and see why everyone is addicted
Vikings: Free Online Game
|
Sponsored
Found! First Earth-Size Planet That Could Support Life
Scientists have discovered Kepler-186f, the first Earth-size alien planet in the habitable zone of its host star. See how so-called ‘Earth cousin’ might have water, and possibly life.
Space
MOST POPULAR
3rd Mysterious Deep-Space Flash Traced to Host Galaxy
By Mike WallJuly 02, 2019

READ MORE
Outer Solar System Mystery Suggests a “Heads-Up” Answer
By Elizabeth HowellJuly 02, 2019

READ MORE
Four Asteroids Travel Along Tilted Orbits in Trance-Like ESA Video
By Doris Elin SalazarJuly 02, 2019

READ MORE
InSight Team Gets Look at Stuck ‘Mole’ on Mars
By Doris Elin SalazarJuly 02, 2019

READ MORE
How Scientists Plan to Study the Total Solar Eclipse 2019
By Nola Taylor ReddJuly 02, 2019

READ MORE
No Aliens Needed: Odd Properties of the 1st Known Interstellar Visitor Can Be Natural
By Nola Taylor ReddJuly 01, 2019

READ MORE
A BFF in Space! Bioprinter Will 3D-Print Human Tissue on the Space Station
By Elizabeth HowellJuly 01, 2019

READ MORE
NASA’s TESS Mission Finds Its Tiniest Alien Planet Yet
By Passant RabieJuly 01, 2019

READ MORE
Dwarf Planet Ceres May Be Wrinkling As It Shrinks
By Charles Q. ChoiJuly 01, 2019

READ MORE
Pictures from Space! Our Image of the Day
By Hanneke WeiteringJuly 01, 2019

READ MORE
Solar Eclipses: When Is the Next One?
By Joe RaoJuly 01, 2019

READ MORE
After Decades of Hunting, Physicists Claim They’ve Made Quantum Material from Depths of Jupiter
By Rafi LetzterJuly 01, 2019

READ MORE
Advertisement

SIGN UP FOR E-MAIL NEWSLETTERS
Get breaking space news and the latest updates on rocket launches, skywatching events and more!

No spam, we promise. You can unsubscribe at any time and we’ll never share your details without your permission.
Advertisement

MORE FROM SPACE…
1
Best Photos of the 2019 Total Solar Eclipse
2
Twofer! Total Solar Eclipse, Hurricane Barbara Spotted From Space (Photo)
3
Total Solar Eclipse Thrills Skywatchers Across South America
4
What the 2019 Total Solar Eclipse Looked Like Around the Web
5
Here’s the First Image from the Only Total Solar Eclipse of 2019!
Advertisement

About our deals
We sort through thousands of deals to offer the best prices from the most trustworthy retailers. You can support us by clicking these independently selected links, as we may earn a commission on any purchase you make, at no extra cost to you.
Contact us if you have any questions or have found a better price
Do you find our price comparison useful?
Yes

No

Space is part of Future US Inc, an international media group and leading digital publisher. Visit our corporate site.

Terms and conditions

Privacy policy

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *