Home Science & Technology InSight has just discovered a record-breaking concussion: 5 points!

InSight has just discovered a record-breaking concussion: 5 points!


This spectrogram shows the largest earthquake ever detected on another planet. The route push took place on the Red Planet on May 4, 2022 and had a magnitude of 5. Provided by NASA / JPL-Caltech / ETH / Zurich.

May 4 is unofficially known in science fiction circles as Star Wars Day (“Let the Fourth Be with You”) here on Earth. But on another planet, far, far away, this date is now infamous to one of her robots. That day, the Mars InSight lander experienced one of the strongest tremors ever to hit the world. It was recorded at magnitude 5 and became the last of the 1,313 earthquakes detected by the lander since arriving on Mars in 2018. InSight scientists are still analyzing the data to find out exactly where the earthquake occurred on Mars and what could have caused it.

Here on Earth, we are constantly getting earthquakes because our planet is geologically quite active. As an example of one place that trembles heavily, the Big Island of Hawaii can experience more than 300 earthquakes a day, especially as one of its volcanoes prepares for an eruption. Countries along the so-called “Ring of Fire” in the Pacific Ocean are also experiencing many earthquakes due to the movement of tectonic plates and volcanic eruptions. Many of them happen when geological faults break off or there is a sudden movement of one or more tectonic plates. On top of these pieces of crust lie the continents and oceans. There are 15 large plates and several smaller ones. They push each other, and often this movement causes the surface to shake.

All this activity shows how active our planet really is. In addition to earthquakes, in the center of our planet there are processes of mountain formation, volcanic activity, plate movement and activities even deeper. Studies of seismic waves from earthquakes provide an opportunity to “look inside” the Earth to get an idea of ​​its structure.

Mars “Geology” and “Great” Marine Earthquake

On Mars, however, things are a little different. For a long time, planetologists suspected that the Red Planet was geologically dead (or inactive). However, the surface shows evidence of volcanism as well as what is called a hemisphere dichotomy, which simply means that the northern and southern hemispheres are very different from each other in terms of crater and medium altitudes. In addition, the thickness of the crust differs between the two halves of the planet. So obviously the planet is not completely dead. It’s more like what planetary scientists still don’t know enough about Martians inside.

The dome wind and the InSight heat shield that covers its seismometer is called the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure, or SEIS.  Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech
The InSight dome wind and heat shield, which covers its seismometer, is called a seismic experiment for interior structures, or SEIS. This device detected a sea shock on May 4, 2022. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

It is unclear why this dichotomy exists, and even less clear about what is happening inside Mars. He may have had some version of plate tectonics at the beginning of his story, although this is still debated. What is not so controversial is the existence of sea tremors on the Red Planet. And it was the detection and measurement of these earthquakes that led to the fact that the InSight Lander was sent to Mars. It detects them with a very sensitive seismometer and in the process shows what is inside Mars. Every time Mars “shakes” from an earthquake, seismic waves pass through all the layers on the planet. As they travel, they bounce off different layers of the crust, mantle and even the core. This is very similar to how geologists on Earth use earthquake waves to “feel” structures inside our planet.

“Since we delivered our seismometer in December 2018, we were expecting a‘ big one, ’” said Bruce Banerdt, chief researcher at InSight of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “This earthquake undoubtedly opens up a view of the planet like no other. Scientists will analyze this data to learn about Mars for years to come. ”

The good news is followed by the bad news

This selfie from InSight shows how dusty his solar panels have become. If the dust devil does not remove them, they will have trouble getting enough sunlight. Provided by NASA-JPL / Caltech.

While scientists were getting the latest Marsquake data and studying what they could tell them, the InSight lander gave them alarming news. He had problems with the solar panels due to the accumulation of dust on the solar panels. This affects the generation of electricity needed to maintain the operation of the appliances. On May 7, 2022, the available capacity decreased so much that the system went into safe mode. The lander suspended all unnecessary operations indefinitely while the technician figured out what to do next. InSight is facing a Martian winter in its place, which means there is more dust in the air that settles on the solar panels. This, in turn, filters the sunlight needed to recharge the spacecraft’s batteries. This will be a constant problem with the onset of winter, but shutting down is the best way to protect your landing gear and its devices.

Meanwhile, InSight scientists have a mound of Marsquake and other data to study. What they learn will help them better understand the structure of the Red Planet and the structure of the other rocky worlds of the solar system.

For more information:

Mission Mars Insight

Marsquake press release

One full year of seismic data collected by InSight includes 500 earthquakes
The geology of the InSight landing site on Mars