Marsquake: NASA Detects Seismic Activity On Mars

Pablo Tucker
April 24, 2019

The rumble on Mars stood out because the surface of the red planet is extremely quiet in comparison with Earth.

Following this, the NASA lander extended its French-made seismometer to the red planet's surface in December, then commissioned the instrument in early February. Measuring the Martian equivalent of earthquakes, seismic waves traveling through the interior of the planet, was among the lander's key science goals.

For Mars, "we've been collecting background noise up until now, but this first event officially kicks off a new field: Martian seismology!"

A more distant quake would yield greater information about Mars' interior because seismic waves would "penetrate deeper into the planet before they come back up to the seismometer", he said. Scientists still are examining the data to determine the exact cause of the signal.

InSight's mission is to identify the quakes that take place on the planet, with the aim to build a clearer picture of Mars's interior structure.

But the Sol 128 signal, as well as being stronger, is interesting for another reason: it bears a strong similarity to the seismic profile of moonquakes detected by surface seismometers between 1969 and 1977 - the devices were stationed there by astronauts from the Apollo missions.

InSight detected another three signals between 14 March and 11 April, but their origin is mired in mystery.

Mars is not almost as geologically active as Earth and, like our moon, lacks tectonic plates.

The April 6 quake was very small, meaning it didn't provide much insight into the Martian interior. Though scientists don't know exactly what caused it, they think it was a marsquake, and not a disturbance caused by wind or other environmental conditions.

Mars and the moon don't have tectonic plates, which is the cause of quakes on Earth; their quakes are caused by cooling and contraction, which create stress fractures on the crust.

Detecting these tiny quakes required a huge feat of engineering. InSight's instrument has several ingenious insulating barriers, including a cover built by JPL called the Wind and Thermal Shield, to protect it from the planet's extreme temperature changes and high winds.

According to Banerdt, the data that the Insight spacecraft will collect will "prime NASA on all the geological processes" that have persisted on Mars for the past billions of years.

SEIS has surpassed the team's expectations in terms of its sensitivity.

It was discovered on 6 April, the 128th day of InSight Mars' mission, which began in November 2018.

Even though it's still unknown what caused the quake, scientists at NASA and the National Centre for Space Studies (CNES) - the French apex space agency - have determined that the quakes are more moon-like in nature than similar to earthquakes. DLR provided the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3) instrument, with significant contributions from the Space Research Center of the Polish Academy of Sciences and Astronika in Poland.

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