InSight has just detected the largest Martian earthquake ever recorded

On May 4, NASA’s InSight probe, currently on Mars, detected a rather exceptional signal on the Red Planet. It was the most powerful earthquake ever recorded on Mars, but also on a planet other than Earth. The earthquake was magnitude 5, and it broke the record for the strongest Martian earthquake which was magnitude 4.2. The latter was recorded in August 2021.

On Earth, a magnitude 5 earthquake is common. An earthquake of this intensity occurs hundreds of thousands of times each year without causing much damage. However, on Mars, it’s a different story. The planet is indeed much calmer tectonically, and an earthquake of magnitude 5 is what scientists have been waiting to detect since the arrival of the probe in 2018.

Credits NASA/JPL-Caltech

For the moment, scientists do not yet know much about this Martian earthquake. All the data will still need to be analyzed to determine its source and location.

Determine the structure of the planet Mars

The InSight probe arrived on Mars on November 26, 2018 and landed in Elysium Planitia, a plain located at the planet’s equator. The probe is equipped with a highly sensitive seismometer manufactured by the French space agency CNES. This instrument allows geologists to analyze the interior of Mars by detecting and analyzing the seismic waves that pass through the different geological layers.

By comparing what happens on Mars with what is known about the behavior of seismic waves on Earth, it is possible to determine the depth and composition of these inner layers. Like Earth, Mars also has a core, mantle, and crust.

The future of InSight

It has now been around 1,300 days since InSight arrived on Mars. The probe has so far recorded more than 1,313 Martian earthquakes. But even if it could still detect more, the future of InSight is not really assured because of the difficulty of storing energy.

Due to the climate of Mars, InSight cannot collect enough solar energy to recharge its batteries. The amount of dust in the atmosphere has increased significantly since the arrival of the probe. This prevents the sun’s rays from reaching the solar panels.

Back in January, a dust storm forced InSight into safe mode. Because of this, NASA began to wonder how long the lander will still be able to operate.


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