In terms of seismic events on the Red Planet (or any other planet besides Earth), this is the largest recorded to date: NASA’s InSight lander recorded a “monster” of an earthquake, which is estimated to have reached magnitude 5. on the scale used on Earth.
This beats the previous record holder, a magnitude 4.2 earthquake that Insight recorded on August 25, 2021. The new earthquake occurred on Mars on May 4 this year, the 1,222nd sol ( or Martian day) of the lander’s mission.
A magnitude 5 earthquake on Earth would be classified as moderate, causing only minor damage. However, this is just at the higher end of the size of earthquakes that scientists are finding on Mars, due to less seismic activity.
At this time, we don’t know what caused the Marsquake or where exactly it originated on the Red Planet, but it’s already arousing great interest among researchers. It adds to more than 1,300 earthquakes that Insight has detected since it landed in November 2018.
By studying seismic waves passing through Mars, scientists hope to learn more about the planet’s crust, mantle and core. This in turn should shed light on understanding how Mars (and other similar planets, such as Earth) formed in the first place.
“Since we placed our seismometer in December 2018, we have been waiting for ‘the big one’”, explains planetary geophysicist Bruce Banerdt of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California, and the head of the InSight mission.
“This earthquake is sure to provide a view of the planet like no other. Scientists will analyze this data to learn new things about Mars for years to come.”
Since earthquakes are generally not as violent as earthquakes, they are harder to detect and other vibrations – from the wind, for example – can interfere with the readings. With this in mind, InSight is equipped with a highly sensitive seismometer called the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure.
Volcanic activity is also thought to generate seismic waves on Mars, and experts continue to identify new patterns in the data that Insight and its seismometer have already recorded and sent back to Earth.
With that in mind, you can expect to hear a lot more about the data Insight collected on May 4, 2022, in the future, but for now, it’s clear the earthquake is a record – and well at above average for what would normally be expected on Mars.
Unfortunately, Insight has now run into some technical difficulties: with the onset of the Martian winter and increasing levels of dust in the air, the lander is struggling to get enough sunlight onto the solar panels supporting it. feed.
As a result, the machine has put itself into safe mode for the time being. This hibernation shuts down all but the most essential functions, and it may be a while before we hear anything from Insight again.