Mars' Accelerating Spin Leaves Scientists Puzzled


| LAST UPDATE 08/08/2023

By Stanley Wickens
Mars rotation mystery discovery

In an unexpected and fascinating discovery, Mars, our neighboring Red Planet, has been found to be spinning faster. This puzzling revelation has scientists scratching their heads, as they grapple with the mystery of why this is happening.

According to data collected by NASA's now-retired InSight lander, the rotation of Mars is accelerating each year by around 4 milliarcseconds. While this might seem minuscule, amounting to a mere fraction of a millisecond shortening of a Martian day each year, it's still a significant discovery with potentially far-reaching implications. The question that now baffles scientists worldwide is: why is Mars spinning faster? Several hypotheses are being examined, including long-term trends such as the accumulation of material at the polar ice caps or shifts in the planet's interior dynamics. Planetary geophysicist Bruce Banerdt of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory shared his excitement about the findings, saying, "It's really cool to be able to get this latest measurement – and so precisely. I've been involved in efforts to get a geophysical station like InSight onto Mars for a long time, and results like this make all those decades of work worth it."

Mars discovery research NASA
SpaceX via Pexels
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Although InSight was retired in December 2022, the data it gathered during its four-year operation continue to provide valuable insights into the mysteries of Mars. The rover's seismic recordings have not only revealed the internal structure of Mars but also shed light on the composition of its liquid core and ongoing geodynamic activity. Interestingly, while Mars is spinning faster, Earth is experiencing the opposite effect – our planet's rotation is slowing down. This slowing effect is largely due to the Moon's gravitational pull on our oceans, which redistributes Earth's mass. However, Mars doesn't have oceans, suggesting that some other mysterious process must be at play.

Further analysis of the RISE data also allowed scientists to refine measurements of the Martian core, revealing a wobble called nutation caused by fluid motion. These findings hint at uneven density distribution within the core, another intriguing puzzle that scientists will need to unravel. This discovery, described by astronomer Sebastien Le Maistre at the Royal Observatory of Belgium as a "historic experiment", opens up a new chapter in our understanding of Mars. Despite the meticulous preparation and anticipation, the findings have surprised scientists, promising more revelations about Mars in the future.

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