Mars probe InSight detects possible 'marsquake', NASA says, in interplanetary first

NASA  JPL-Caltech

NASA JPL-Caltech

According to a news release, NASA's InSight lander's Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) instrument recorded the "marsquake" on April 6, the lander's 128th Martian day, or sol.

The first marsquake detected indicates the shallow subsurface of Mars contains far less water than Earth - but Mars is no where near as dry as the Moon.

It was detected by InSight's French-built seismometer, an instrument sensitive enough to measure a seismic wave just one-half the radius of a hydrogen atom. Or else the InSight mission got extremely lucky and we won't hear anything again from the Red Planet for quite some time.

Most of the data collected by the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) instrument to date has consisted of background noise, but on April 6 - Sol 128 of InSight's mission - the instrument finally registered what the team had been looking for.

"InSight's first readings carry on the science that began with the Apollo missions", said InSight Principal Investigator Bruce Banerdt of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

InSight's lead scientist, Bruce Banerdt of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said the result was the continuation of work started by the Apollo moonwalkers almost a half-century ago, who placed seismometers that measured thousands of moonquakes.

Professor Lognonne added: "The first surprise we got with the marsquake is that it had more similarity to a moonquake than to an quake".

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Mars is much less geologically active than Earth and lacks the tectonic plates that cause most earthquakes.

As these vibrations move through the Red Planet, they bump into and reflect off of different materials underground.

Though NASA is calling this the first likely marsquake, the space agency says three other possible seismic signals were detected on March 14, April 10, and April 11. InSight is now less than six months into its two-year primary mission, so we can expect to see many additional discoveries in the coming months.

"So we are very confident that this is a marsquake", Philippe Lognonné, a geophysics and planetary science professor at University Paris Diderot in France and lead researcher for InSight's seismometer, said in an email. However, the quake was too small to to provide data on the Martian interior, one of InSight's main goals.

While the slight quake could have been caused by wind or other external forces, the InSight team is "confident" it came from Mars itself. The lander is the first spacecraft designed specifically to study the deep interior of a distant world.

InSight's Seismometer on the Martian Surface: This image shows InSight's domed Wind and Thermal Shield, which covers its seismometer. During that time, astronauts measured thousands of quakes.

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