NASA’s InSight Mars lander has just detected the strongest quake ever observed on another planet.
The marsquake, which took place on May 4, registered at magnitude 5, easily beating the previous magnitude record of 4.2 in a quake detected by InSight in August last year. Further study of the natural event, which NASA described as a “monster quake,” will help scientists to determine its precise location and the nature of its source. The hope is that it could also offer more information about the red planet’s interior.
NASA reported the powerful marsquake on InSight’s Twitter account on Monday, May 10.
“Felt that one!” the tweet said. “After more than three years of listening to the soft rumbles of Mars, I just felt by far my biggest ‘marsquake’ yet: looks like about magnitude 5. My team is studying the data to learn more. Science rewards patience!”
Felt that one‼️
After more than three years of listening to the soft rumbles of Mars, I just felt by far my biggest “marsquake” yet: looks like about magnitude 5. My team is studying the data to learn more. Science rewards patience!
More details: https://t.co/DKVy8tUrxU pic.twitter.com/bExr13Lkvw
— NASA InSight (@NASAInSight) May 9, 2022
Mars doesn’t have the kind of tectonic plates whose sudden movements cause quakes on Earth. Instead, marsquakes are caused by volcanic activity. Scientists are interested in studying Mars’ seismic activity as the data can contribute to a better understanding of the red planet’s mantle and core.
In more than three years of monitoring Mars, InSight has detected more than 1,313 quakes. Its highly sensitive seismometer operates beneath a dome that serves to block out the sound of the wind and protect it from the cold nights.
Commenting on last week’s significant marsquake, Bruce Banerdt, InSight’s principal investigator at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said: “Since we set our seismometer down in December 2018, we’ve been waiting for ‘the big one.’ This quake is sure to provide a view into the planet like no other. Scientists will be analyzing this data to learn new things about Mars for years to come.”
NASA also reported that InSight is currently experiencing issues with martian dust that’s covering its solar panels, leading to reduced efficiency. InSight can attempt to remove dust by using its robotic arm to trickle sand across the panels. Windy conditions can also clear it off, but the lander has to be lucky to experience such a weather event. Dust is also causing issues for NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter, which last year became the first aircraft to perform powered, controlled flight on another planet.