NASA’s InSight Mars lander has detected the largest earthquake ever seen on another planet: an estimated magnitude 5 quake that occurred on May 4, 2022, the 1,222nd Martian day, or sol, of the mission . This adds to the catalog of more than 1,313 earthquakes InSight has detected since landing on Mars in November 2018. The largest earthquake previously recorded was an estimated magnitude of 4.2 detected on August 25. 2021.
InSight was sent to Mars with a highly sensitive seismometer, provided by France’s Center National d’Etudes Spatiales (CNES), to study the planet’s deep interior. When seismic waves pass through or reflect material in the crust, mantle and core of Mars, they change in ways that seismologists can study to determine the depth and composition of these layers. What scientists learn about the structure of Mars can help them better understand the formation of all rocky worlds, including Earth and its moon.
A magnitude 5 quake is an average-sized quake compared to those felt on Earth, but it’s near the upper limit of what scientists had hoped to see on Mars during the InSight mission. The science team will need to investigate this new quake further before they can provide details such as its location, the nature of its source and what it might tell us about the interior of Mars.
“Since we landed our seismometer in December 2018, we’ve been waiting for ‘the big one,'” said Bruce Banerdt, InSight principal investigator at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, who is leading the mission. “This earthquake is sure to provide a view of the planet like no other. Scientists will analyze this data to learn new things about Mars for years to come.”
The big earthquake comes as InSight faces new challenges with its solar panels, which power the mission. As InSight’s Mars location enters winter, there is more dust in the air, reducing available sunlight. On May 7, 2022, the lander’s available energy dropped just below the limit that triggers safe mode, where the spacecraft suspends all but the most essential functions. This reaction is designed to protect the lander and may reoccur as available power slowly decreases.
After the lander completed its primary mission in late 2020, meeting its original science goals, NASA extended the mission until December 2022.
NASA’s InSight finds three large March quakes, thanks to dusting of solar panels
Provided by Jet Propulsion Laboratory
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