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InSight’s magnetometer, the first placed on the Martian surface, gave scientists their best look yet at the crustal magnetic field, and it gave them a bit of a shock: The magnetic field near the robot was around 20 times stronger than what had been predicted based on past orbital measurements.
Brain, who is familiar with the InSight data, says that this strong, stable magnetic signal is coming from rocks near InSight, but whether they are deep underground or nearer to the surface is currently unclear. That identification matters, Byrne says, because if it’s coming from younger rocks near the surface, it would imply that a strong magnetic field persisted around Mars for longer than we currently think.
Perhaps even more puzzling, InSight also found that the crustal magnetic field near its location jiggled about every now and then. This wobbling is known as a magnetic pulsation, explains Matthew Fillingim, a space physicist at the University of California, Berkeley, and a member of the InSight science team.
These pulses are fluctuations in the strength or direction of the magnetic field, and they are not entirely unusual. Plenty of them happen on Earth and Mars triggered by upper atmospheric chaos, the action of the solar wind, and kinks in the planets’ magnetic bubbles, among other things.
What’s strange is that these Martian wobbles happen at local midnight, as if responding to the demands of an unseen, nocturnal timer.
What’s more, the lander has picked up on a very peculiar electrically conductive layer, about 2.5 miles thick, deep beneath the planet’s surface. It’s far too early to say with any certainty, but there is a chance that this layer could represent a global reservoir of liquid water.
On Earth, groundwater is a hidden sea locked up in sand, soil, and rocks. If something similar is found on Mars, then “we shouldn’t be surprised,” says Jani Radebaugh, a planetary scientist at Brigham Young University who was not involved with the work. But if these results bear out, a liquid region at this scale on modern Mars has enormous implications for the potential for life, past or present.
the Martian crust is far more powerfully magnetic than scientists expected.