NASA's Insight Mars lander has recorded what is likely the first ever detected earthquake – or marsquake – on the planet Mars. Picked up by the unmanned lander's Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) instrument, the extremely faint subsurface vibrations were recorded on April 6, 2019, or the mission's 128th Martian day on the Red Planet.
For Earthlings, marsquakes are pretty disappointing things. On Earth, quakes can range from faint rumbles to terrifying events that can flatten entire cities and tear at the seabeds to create tsunamis that devastate whole regions. But our planet is very geologically active thanks to tectonic plates that rub up against one another, building up stresses until they are dramatically released.
Mars, on the other hand, is largely dead from a geological point of view. Its volcanoes are cold and its crust has no tectonic plates. According to NASA, marsquakes are relatively faint because they are produced as the planet cools and contracts, occasionally breaking the crust.
However, these quakes are of extreme interest to scientists in the same way that the even deader Moon's equally faint quakes were of interest during the Apollo missions. Because quakes are essentially giant sound waves that travel through the interior of a planet or moon, they can be altered by the composition and structure of the body, allowing geologists to deduce them from seismographs in the same way that a shopper can judge the ripeness of melon by tapping it.
NASA says that though marsquakes are very faint, the Martian surface is relatively quiet because there isn't the violent weather and ocean movements found on Earth that would drown out quakes like the one recently detected. Though scientists are still uncertain as to the exact cause of the recorded quake, its profile is similar to that of recorded moonquakes and they believe that this one did come from inside the planet, as opposed to three other events on March 14 , April 10, and April 11, which were ambiguous.
"InSight's first readings carry on the science that began with NASA's Apollo missions," said InSight Principal Investigator Bruce Banerdt at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "We've been collecting background noise up until now, but this first event officially kicks off a new field: Martian seismology."
The video below shows the marsquake recording.
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