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This is an artist's drawing of the process that creates alternating magnetic bands in the crust of a planet. The red in the picture is north and blue is south.
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Courtesy of NASA

Scientists Have Found Ancient Mars to be Like Earth
News story originally written on May 10, 1999

Scientists have found new evidence supporting a theory that ancient Mars was similar to our current Earth. Using a magnetometer, NASA's Mars Global Surveyor is finding magnetic field patterns on Mars' surface. These bands are frozen in the planet's crust, carrying a record of the changes which occurred over the past millions of years.

"The Discovery of this pattern on Mars could revolutionize current thinking of the red planet's evolution," said Dr. Jack Connerney of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD.

On Earth, the magnetic field lines randomly alternate their flow between the north and south poles. Each time they switch, the bands are frozen in solidified molten rock that escaped from the Earth's crust. This same pattern was found on Mars, and will be used to study the early development of the red planet.

The new findings may also explain the physical differences between the northern lowlands and the southern highlands on Mars. Evidence shows that the rather smooth lowlands are free of magnetic field lines, while the rough highlands reveal several lines.

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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part by the National Science Foundation and NASA, our Founding Partners (the American Geophysical Union and American Geosciences Institute) as well as through Institutional, Contributing, and Affiliate Partners, individual memberships and generous donors. Thank you for your support! NASA AGU AGI NSF