NASA’s Mars InSight lander has measured and recorded for the first time ever a likely “marsquake,” the Jet Propulsion Laboratory announced Tuesday.
The faint seismic signal, detected by the lander’s Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure instrument, was recorded on April 6, the lander’s 128th Martian day, or sol. This is the first recorded trembling that appears to have come from inside the planet, as opposed to being caused by forces above the surface, such as wind, according to JPL. Scientists still are examining the data to determine the exact cause of the signal.
“InSight’s first readings carry on the science that began with NASA’s Apollo missions,” said InSight Principal Investigator Bruce Banerdt of NASA’s JPL. “We’ve been collecting background noise up until now, but this first event officially kicks off a new field: Martian seismology!”
The new seismic event was too small to provide solid data on the Martian interior, which is one of InSight’s main objectives. The Martian surface is extremely quiet, allowing SEIS, InSight’s specially designed seismometer, to pick up faint rumbles. In contrast, Earth’s surface is quivering constantly from seismic noise created by oceans and weather. An event of this size in Southern California would be lost among dozens of tiny crackles that occur every day.
“The Martian Sol 128 event is exciting because its size and longer duration fit the profile of moonquakes detected on the lunar surface during the Apollo missions,” said Lori Glaze, Planetary Science Division director at NASA headquarters.
NASA’s Apollo astronauts installed five seismometers that measured thousands of quakes while operating on the moon between 1969 and 1977, revealing seismic activity on the moon. Different materials can change the speed of seismic waves or reflect them, allowing scientists to use the waves to learn about the interior of the moon and model its formation. NASA currently is planning to return astronauts to the moon by 2024, laying the foundation that will eventually enable human exploration of Mars.
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