Scientists say they have measured and recorded what was likely the first ever seismic tremor on Mars.
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.
NASA says 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.
“We’ve been waiting months for a signal like this,” Philippe Lognonné, SEIS team lead at the Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris in France, said in a statement. “It’s so exciting to finally have proof that Mars is still seismically active. We’re looking forward to sharing detailed results once we’ve had a chance to analyze them.”
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NASA says the new seismic event was too small to provide solid data on the planet’s interior, which is one of the main objectives of the NASA InSight mission.
“The Martian surface is extremely quiet, allowing SEIS, InSight’s specially designed seismometer, to pick up faint rumbles,” the release reads. “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.”
Quakes on Earth occur on faults created by the motion of tectonic plates. According to NASA, Mars and the moon do not have tectonic plates but still experience quakes.
According to NASA, quakes on Mars and the moon are caused by a continual process of cooling and contraction that creates stress. Over time, scientists say the stress builds until it is strong enough to break the crust, causing a quake.
While the seismic tremor was small, scientists say it is an exciting discovery.
“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,” Lori Glaze, Planetary Science Division director at NASA headquarters, said in a statement.
According to NASA, the InSight’s seismometer, which was installed on the surface of Mars on Dec. 19, 2018, will enable scientists to gather data about the deep interior of Mars, allowing scientists to learn about how other rocky worlds, including Earth and Mars, formed.
“We are delighted about this first achievement and are eager to make many similar measurements with SEIS in the years to come,” said Charles Yana, SEIS mission operations manager at CNES, the French government’s space agency.
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NASA says three other seismic signals were detected by SEIS’ more sensitive “very broadband sensors” on March 14, April 10 and April 11, however scientists say these signals were even smaller than the April 6 event and more ambiguous in origin.
“The team will continue to study these events to try to determine their cause,” the release reads.