The ‘monster’ quake on Mars is the largest ever recorded on any other planet, NASA says

The ‘monster’ quake on Mars is the largest ever recorded on any other planet, NASA says

In terms of seismic events on the Red Planet (or indeed any planet other than Earth), this is the largest on record to date: NASA’s InSight lander has recorded a “monster” marsquake estimated to have reached a magnitude of 5 on the Scale used on Earth.

That surpasses the previous record holder, a magnitude 4.2 marsquake that Insight recorded on August 25, 2021. The new quake occurred on Mars on May 4 of this year, the 1,222. Sol (or Mars Day) of the lander’s mission.

A magnitude 5 earthquake on Earth would be classified as moderate and would cause little damage. However, due to less seismic activity, it’s right on the high end of the magnitude of tremors scientists detect on Mars.

The complete marsquake spectrogram. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/ETH Zurich)

At the moment we don’t know what caused the Marsquake or where exactly on the red planet it originated, but it’s already of great interest to researchers. It is in addition to the more than 1,300 tremors Insight has detected since landing in November 2018.

By studying the seismic waves traveling across Mars, scientists hope to learn more about the planet’s crust, mantle and core. This, in turn, should further our understanding of how Mars (and other similar planets like Earth) formed in the first place.

“We’ve been waiting for ‘the big one’ ever since we dropped our seismometer in December 2018,” says Bruce Banerdt, planetary geophysicist of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California and leader of the InSight mission.

“This quake is certain to provide an unparalleled insight into the planet. Scientists will analyze this data to learn new things about Mars in the years to come.”

Since marsquakes are usually not as violent as earthquakes, they are more difficult to detect, and other vibrations – from 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 be generating seismic waves on Mars, and experts continue to identify new patterns in the data that Insight and its seismometer have already recorded and beamed back to Earth.

With that in mind, you can expect to hear a lot more about the data collected by Insight on May 4, 2022 in the future, but for now it’s clear that the quake is setting a record — and way above average, what normally the case would be expected on Mars.

Unfortunately, Insight has now encountered 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 that power it.

This put the machine in safe mode for now. This hibernation shuts down all but the most essential features, and it may be some time before we hear back from Insight.

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