NASA lander detects largest ‘earthquake’ yet – Spaceflight Now

NASA lander detects largest ‘earthquake’ yet – Spaceflight Now

The InSight lander’s seismometer instrument, covered with its wind and heat shield, on the surface of Mars. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s InSight lander operating on the surface of Mars has detected the most powerful seismic tremor ever measured on another planet, a “marsquake” estimated at magnitude 5, strong enough to reveal new information about the Martian interior deep.

The InSight spacecraft’s seismometer instrument detected the May 4 earthquake from its position on a broad equatorial plain in a region known as Elysium Planitia. NASA sent a billion-dollar InSight mission to Mars in 2018 to collect data on the Red Planet’s internal structure and geology.

Since landing on Mars, InSight’s seismometric instrument has detected more than 1,313 earthquakes. But most have been relatively weak signals. Prior to May 4, the most powerful tremor felt by InSight was a magnitude 4.2 earthquake on August 25, 2021, according to NASA.

Scientists are analyzing seismic signals recorded by InSight’s earthquake detector, developed and built by French partners, to learn more about the layered structure of rock deep inside Mars. The science team can determine the composition and depth of the inner layers by measuring how seismic signals pass through the planet.

In early results from the InSight mission, scientists wrote in 2020 that Mars was “moderately active” with seismic events, with far more earthquakes than instruments detected on Earth’s Moon. Mars does not have the tectonic plates responsible for the strongest seismic tremors on Earth, but evidence of volcanic activity on Mars in the recent geological past could provide clues to an origin for the earthquakes recorded by InSight.

“Mars shakes more often – but also more slightly – than expected,” NASA said in 2020.

The space agency described the May 4 tremor as a “medium-sized earthquake” compared to those felt on Earth. But the magnitude 5 quake is “near the upper limit of what scientists hoped to see on Mars during the InSight mission,” NASA said.

“The science team will need to investigate this new earthquake further before they can provide details such as its location, the nature of its source, and what it might tell us about the interior of Mars,” the space agency said. in a press release.

This spectrogram shows the largest earthquake ever detected on another planet. Estimated at a magnitude of 5, this earthquake was discovered by NASA’s InSight lander on May 4, 2022, the 1,222nd Martian day, or sol, of the mission. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ETH Zurich

“Since we landed our seismometer in December 2018, we’ve been waiting for ‘the big one,'” said Bruce Banerdt, InSight principal investigator at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, who is leading the 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 in the years to come.”

InSight’s other scientific instrument, an underground thermal probe developed in Germany, failed to sink into the Martian crust shortly after landing.

The InSight lander completed its main mission phase at the end of 2020, after a year of Mars science observations. The mission is now in an extended phase until the end of this year.

But InSight is facing a power crisis due to dust in the Martian atmosphere, which blocks sunlight from reaching the spacecraft’s polar panels. Declining power levels have forced InSight to suspend scientific observations and enter safe mode several times over the past few months.

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

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