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Largest Marsquakes ever recorded could teach us more about Martian core

Published May 2nd, 2022 6:10PM EDT
mars
Image: NASA/JPL

Scientists have published a new study revealing the largest marsquakes ever recorded.

Like Earth, Mars can experience massive seismic events which can cause the surface of the Red Planet to shift. These events are known as ‘marsquakes’. ETH Zurich, a public research university in Switzerland, says marsquakes occur when the soil on Mars is “subjected to an accumulation of stress so strong there is fracturing of the rock structure.” Now, a new study breaks down the largest marsquakes we’ve recorded, both of which were recorded last year.

These are the largest marsquakes ever recorded

Mars landscape
From NASA’s blog: “This image of Mars was taken from the height of 33 feet (10 meters) by NASA’s Ingenuity Mars helicopter during its sixth flight on May 22, 2021.” Image source: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The researchers published their findings in the journal The Seismic Record. The findings were penned by researchers from Britain’s University of Bristol. In the paper, they confirmed the seismic activity, and even share the magnitudes that the Martian surface experienced.

The largest marsquakes ever recorded hit on August 25 and September 18, 2021. A seismometer attached to NASA’s InSight Lander recorded the events. NASA recently extended the InSight’s mission; however, its power reserves are running low. As such, this could be one of the last big pieces of data that we get from the lander. The first marsquake recorded a magnitude of 4.2. The second, InSight measured at a magnitude of 4.1.

These measurements are nowhere close to some of the more powerful earthquakes suspected to have hit our planet, with an ancient Chile earthquake believed to have measured around 9.5. Still, they are astounding readings. Especially when you think about where the marsquakes originated from.

Measured stepping stones

mars insight can measure the largest marsquakes ever
NASA’s Mars InSight lander and its seismometer. Image source: NASA/JPL

When InSight landed on the Martian surface in 2018, it brought the first seismometer to the Red Planet. In 2019, when the seismometer was finally set up, InSight began monitoring the planet for seismic activity. It didn’t take long for it to record the very first marsquake. Since then, InSight has recorded hundreds of marsquakes.

Part of what makes the largest marsquakes ever recorded so intriguing, though, is where they originated from. Not only were they five times larger than any we’d recorded before. But, they also came from a region known as the “core shadow zone”. This zone is roughly 8,500 kilometers (around 5,281 miles) from the InSight lander.

Seismic waves generated in that area often cannot travel directly to the InSight lander, the researchers explain. That’s because the planet’s core affects and sometimes blocks the waves. Instead, the waves of pressure are reflected at least once before they reach InSight. Previously, the energy that travels within the core shadow of Mars has never been seismologically studied. As such, recording the largest marsquakes ever is a huge step forward for scientists.

Not only can it help us learn more about marsquakes in general. But scientists also believe that it could help reveal more about the deeper layers that make up Mars. With a little luck, it may even tell us more about ancient Mars and how the planet formed and evolved over the years.

Josh Hawkins has been writing for over a decade, covering science, gaming, and tech culture. He also is a top-rated product reviewer with experience in extensively researched product comparisons, headphones, and gaming devices. Whenever he isn’t busy writing about tech or gadgets, he can usually be found enjoying a new world in a video game, or tinkering with something on his computer.