NASA scientists have detected the biggest extraterrestrial earthquake ever on Mars with a magnitude of 5 on the Richter scale.
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According to a statement released on Monday by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), a robot on Mars has detected the largest earthquake ever felt on another planet, a Martian tremor with a magnitude of 5 on the Richter scale. The world-record-breaking “marsquake” not only reveals geological activity on Mars, but it also provides a glimpse into the planet’s deep interior.
NASA’s InSight mission, a lander that landed on Mars in November 2018, captured the quake. The Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS), which is the first seismometer ever deployed on an extraterrestrial planet, is a sensitive component aboard InSight.
SEIS, which was designed and developed by France’s National Center for Space Studies, the country’s governmental space agency, has documented over 1,300 marsquakes since its inception three years ago.
None, however, have come close to approaching the magnitude 5 “monster quake” that struck Mars last Wednesday, May 4, as described by JPL. On Earth, this magnitude would be considered a common medium-sized event, similar to a recent quake in Namibia, yet on Mars, this intensity is extremely rare. On the logarithmic Richter scale, the previous record-holder, which happened in August 2021, had a magnitude of 4.2, making it only a sixth of the strength of the latest quake.
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Seismic waves bounce off or pass through diverse internal formations as they travel through the Martian crust, mantle, and core. Rumbles observed by InSight as a result of these collisions can be mined for significant information about the size, composition, and distribution of structures on the planet. This information can be used to piece together the tale of Mars’ genesis and evolution, as well as shed insight on other rocky planets like Earth.
Scientists were perplexed for the first two years of the project by the lack of magnitude 4 marsquakes. The lander has now recorded its largest marsquake to date, a milestone that will offer new information about Mars’ underground layers.
“Since we set our seismometer down in December 2018, we’ve been waiting for ‘the big one’,” said Bruce Banerdt, InSight’s lead investigator at JPL, in a statement. “This quake is sure to provide a view into the planet like no other. Scientists will be analyzing this data to learn new things about Mars for years to come.”