Cookies & Tracking
You are here:
Extrasolar Planets and Atmospheres
Asteroids and Comets
Planetary Sensor Systems
Central Institute Infrastructure
Service & Links
Gravitational and magnetic fields
Topographic relief and correlating gravity high (mascon) of the lunar Mare Smythii
Source: Martin Pauer
One of the approaches to study
interiors of planets
is to carefully analyse the internally generated fields extending to the outer space i.e. gravitation and magnetic field. Whereas the gravitation is given by mass distribution within the body which is quite stable, the magnetic field of the planets is usually generated by some internal dynamic processes and, therefore, can change significantly with the time. Studying not only the current state of these fields but also the remnant signs from the past can give us a lot of clues about the global evolution of the planet.
Today the most effective method to measure the gravitational field of planet is to study the disturbances of a satellite’s orbit, which are caused by local gravity acceleration anomalies. The disturbances are then used to reconstruct the global gravitation usually in the form of geoid anomalies (or equipotential anomalies) referenced to a rotational ellipsoid (gravitational field of a rotating planet without mass anomalies). The precise knowledge of the gravity can then help us to better determine the topography relief which is the second important component in the gravimetrical inversion problems. After obtaining these data, i.e. gravity and topography field, together with estimates of the densities, one can make simplified but realistic lateral models of the crustal structure, the lithosphere thickness at the time of loading and in some cases even the mantle and core-mantle-boundary structure.
In the case of the Moon, the analysis of the gravitational and topography field indicates a dichotomy of the crustal thickness with the far side of the Moon having a much thicker crust in comparison to the near side. Furthermore, areas of large mass concentrations - so called 'mascons' - in the centre of many big impact structures, have been identified. These mascons can be explained by an infill of basaltic lava which has a higher density than the primary crust.
Like for the Moon, a crustal dichotomy has been observed for Mars from the analysis of its gravitational and topography field; the crust thickness is assumed to increase by about 30 km from the northern hemisphere into the southern hemisphere. A dominant feature in the Martian gravity and topography field is the Tharsis bulge; a huge volcanic construct close to the equatorial region. Gravity models suggest that the Tharsis bulge is not isostatically compensated but supported by a thick elastic lithosphere of more than 100 km.
On Venus, the gravity is strongly correlated with the topography even at the largest scales. This correlation for the large scale features is quite unusual and a possible explanation is the support of the topography of Venus by its mantle convection together with the presence of a thin elastic lithosphere.
Prof. Dr. Doris Breuer
Completed and on-going theses
Interior Structure of Planetary Bodies
Mantle Convection in Planets and Moons
Gravitational and Magnetic Fields
Seismology of Planetary Bodies
Habitability and Thermal Evolution
Tectonics of Planetary Surfaces
Thermal and Physical Modeling of Planetary Surfaces
Thermal Probes for Measuring Surface Heat Flow
Copyright © 2021 German Aerospace Center (DLR). All rights reserved.