NASA's Mars InSight lander detected a quake on the red planet, believes NASA

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InSight's Seismometer on the Martian Surface. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech
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InSight's Seismometer on the Martian Surface. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Seismic signals picked up in the surface of Mars at the beginning of April

For the first time, NASA's robotic probe InSight has picked up what scientists believe to be a quake on Mars.

The data came on 6th April in the form of a faint seismic signal, about five months after the lander touched down on the Martian surface. It was InSight's 128th sol (Martian day) on the Red Planet.

According to NASA, the seismic signal was detected by the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) instrument, which is capable of measuring a seismic wave just one-half the radius of a hydrogen atom. The instrument is highly sensitive and needs protection from the wind. That's why it always remains covered by a dome-shaped shield that enables it to focus only on the interior of the planet.

It's so exciting to finally have proof that Mars is still seismically active

NASA scientists are still studying the SEIS data to determine the exact cause of the signal, but the high frequency of the signal and its broad band suggests that it likely came from the Mars' interior and was not caused by wind shaking the instrument.

So far, InSight has detected three other signals of seismic activity on Mars - on 14th March, 10th April, and 11th April. All these signals were recorded by SEIS' Very Broad Band sensors, but they were weaker than the signal recorded on 6th April.

The Martian surface is extremely quiet compared with the Earth's, which continuously experiences seismic noise produced by weather processes, oceans, and tremors occurring along fault lines.

Mars, on the other hand, lacks tectonic plates, and its seismic activity is mainly driven by a process that involves slow cooling and contracting in the interior. This process eventually leads to building up of stress, which over time becomes strong enough to rupture the crust.

The Mars InSight team hopes to use the probe's Marsquake data to eventually figure out what Mars is made of. As the waves generated from a quake travel across the rocks within the planet, the signals can provide significant details about the interior of Mars.

"It's so exciting to finally have proof that Mars is still seismically active," said Philippe Lognonné, the principal investigator for SEIS.

"We're looking forward to sharing detailed results once we've had a chance to analyse them," he added.

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