Skip Navigation: Avoid going through Home page links and jump straight to content


Initial Results from the Magnetometer

Figures from First Mars Global Surveyor Science Press Conference
October 2, 1997


This artist's rendition depicts the response of the solar wind to the obstacle - the planet Mars - in it's path. A supersonic "solar wind" consisting of electrically charged particles (ions and electrons) streams off the Sun into space. It is slowed to subsonic speeds in the vicinity of Mars at a parabolic surface called a "bow shock" upstream of the planet. Here, the magnetic field fluctuates wildly and the flow of the solar wind becomes chaotic. Part of the orbital trajectory of the Mars Global Surveyor is indicated, with MGS approaching the planet just prior to over- flight of the pole.


This figure shows a cross-section of the planet Mars revealing an inner, high density core buried deep within the interior. Dipole magnetic field lines are drawn in blue, showing the global scale magnetic field that one associates with dynamo generation in the core. Mars must have one day had such a field, but today it is not evident. Perhaps the energy source that powered the early dynamo has shut down. The differentiation of the planet interior - heavy elements like iron sinking towards the center of the planet - can provide energy as can the formation of a solid core from the liquid.


This image shows the orientation and magnitude of the magnetic field measured by the MGS magnetometer as it sped over the surface of Mars during an early aerobraking pass (Day of the year, 264; "P6" periapsis pass). At each point along the spacecraft trajectory we've drawn vectors in the direction of the magnetic field measured at that instant; the length of the line is scaled to show the relative magnitude of the field. Imagine traveling along with the MGS spacecraft, holding a string with a magnetized needle on one end: this is esentially a compass with a needle that is free to spin in all directions. As you pass over the surface the needle would swing rapidly, first pointing towards the planet and then rotating quickly towards "up" and back down again. All in a relatively short span of time, say a minute or two, during which time the spacecraft has traveled a couple of hundred miles. You've just passed over one of many "magnetic anomalies" thus far detected near the surface of Mars. A second major anomaly appears a little later along the spacecraft track, about 1/4 the magnitude of the first - can you find it? The short scale length of the magnetic field signature locates the source near the surface of Mars, perhaps in the crust, a 10 to 75 kilometer thick outer shell of the planet (radius 3397 km).


This is a simple schematic representation of localized magnetic sources in the crust of Mars, buried beneath the surface, and revealed by observation of the magnetic field (blue) extending up to satellite altitude (about 120 kilometers). Most of our close passes to date - for which we have data - reveal the presence of one or more magnetic anomalies close to the path of the spacecraft. Since the sources must be close to the path of the satellite, we can only infer that the crust of Mars is strewn with similar magnetic anomalies, awaiting discovery. Where we can obtain enough data - that is to say, spaced more or less evenly in longitude with a spacing comparable to our periapsis altitude - we can construct a detailed image of the magnetic state of the Martian crust. We can then perhaps learn about the history of the now-extinct early Mars dynamo and the evolution of the surface of Mars.