Marsquake: Graph with many bright points on bottom and other vertical lines.

EarthSky | New 5.0 Marsquake is largest yet detected

Spectrogram of the InSight Mars lander, with the largest Marsquake detected to date, measuring 5.0, detected earlier this month. Image via NASA/ JPL-Caltech/ ETH Zurich.

Earthquakes are common on our planet, and they can be large, with devastating consequences. The planet closest to the sun, Mars, also has earthquakes, which we’ve seen as milder so far. NASAs Insight lander has been record marsquakes since it crashed on Mars in 2018. So far, the tremors have been calm, until magnitude 4.2† But on May 4, 2022 – the 1,222nd Sol (Mars Day) from the InSight mission – the lander felt its largest marsquake to date, with a record magnitude of 5.0. It’s not just the largest marsquake. It is the largest quake detected on another planet to date.

Earthquake magnitude scale.
Earthquake Scale, via Michigan Tech

The big

On Earth, magnitude 5.0 is a medium-sized earthquake. On Mars, however, it is near what scientists say is the upper limit for earthquake strength.

Mission scientists call this new earthquake “the big one.” The biggest so far anyway. Bruce BanerdtInSight’s Principal Investigator at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) declared

Since we put down our seismometer in December 2018, we’ve been waiting for ‘the big one’. This earthquake will certainly provide you with a view of the planet like no other. Scientists will analyze this data to learn new things about Mars in the coming years.

as NASA tweeted on May 9:

At this time, scientists are still determining the exact location of the earthquake and how it occurred. Mars has no active plate tectonics as Earth does, but in recent years there has been mounting evidence that the planet is still geologically active below the surface. Indeed, the last major earthquake proves that Mars still “rocks” today.

Graph with sudden high zigzags fading back down over time.
Seismogram of the magnitude 5.0 Marsquake detected by Insight on May 4, 2022. Image via NASA/ JPL-Caltech.

New marsquake is the newest of many

Indeed, InSight has recorded no fewer than 1,313 Marsquakes to date. Previously, the largest quake detected was on August 25, 2021 with a magnitude of 4.2.

Scientists suspected Mars was still rumbling a bit beneath the surface, but InSight is the first mission to confirm this.

How many more times will InSight feel the Martian underground tremble?

A dusty problem

Overall, InSight’s mission has been incredibly successful, since it landed in Elysium Planitia on November 26, 2018. (Apart from the frustrating issues with his “wart” heat probe instrument.) At the moment, however, it faces some new challenges. There is now much more dust in the air of Mars, which affects the solar panels of the lander. On May 7, the power of the solar panels even dropped below the safe mode limit. In safe mode, only the most necessary functions of the rover will still work. As with safe mode on other spacecraft, this helps to protect the lander until the power level rises again. It is a kind of temporary hibernation.

InSight also went into safe mode last January and later exited safe mode after a dust storm stirred up large amounts of dust. Hopefully InSight will be back to normal this time as well!

Smiling man standing outdoors with sharp snowy mountains in the background.
Bruce Banerdt at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is the principal investigator for the InSight mission. Image via NASA/ JPL.
Intricate machine with two large umbrella-shaped solar panels, seen from above.
View larger† † This “selfie” made by Insight shows dust on the solar panels. Lately, much more dust has accumulated, forcing the lander to go into safe mode. This image is a combination of 14 images taken between March 15 and April 11, 2019. Image via NASA/ JPL-Caltech.

NASA will provide a update media conference on the status of InSight on Tuesday, May 17, 2022 at 2:00 PM EDT (11:00 AM PDT).

Mission Goals

The InSight mission has two main goals. The first is to understand the formation and evolution of terrestrial planets through research into the internal structure and processes of Mars. The other primary goal is to determine the current level of tectonic activity and meteorite impact velocity on Mars. InSight has already provided unprecedented insight in the geological history of Mars and potential habitability.

Bottom Line: NASA’s InSight lander has just detected the largest Marsquake yet in its mission. Insight felt “the big one,” a record 5.0, on May 4, 2022.

Read more about the InSight mission

Via NASA


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