NASA Recorded a Quake on Mars

NASA Recorded a Quake on Mars

NASA Recorded a Quake on Mars
Image Credits: MensXP

In order to enhance their understanding about the interior of the red planet, scientists at NASA recorded a quake on Mars (for the first time) and the resulting audio is quite eerie.

A quake on Mars is quite different from the earthquakes that we experience on our planet. On Earth, there are tectonic plates slipping and sliding and banging into each other, causing the ground to shake violently. Mars doesn’t have tectonic plates but still, the ground does shake occasionally. Sometimes the outer layer of Mars buckles or folds. On other occasions, hot material can shift around under the surface or a meteorite hits the planet to cause measurable tremors.

InSight’s Seismometer

The seismometer of the InSight Lander, known as the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS), sits on the Martian surface and waits patiently to sense the pulse from quakes (seismic waves) and meteorite impacts. SEIS is the first seismometer to be placed on Mars in 40 years and it’s designed to measure the pulse of Mars. It sends data back to the Earth twice a day. SEIS has been collecting background noise up until April 6, when it recorded a rumbling that appears to come from the interior.

The event occurred on the 128th Martian day (known as a Sol) that InSight has been on the planet, with one other seismic event occurring prior and two shortly after. However, the other three events were too small for researchers to pinpoint. Philippe Lognonné, the Team Lead of the Mission from the Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris (IPGP), referred to this event in the following words:

“We’ve been waiting months for a signal like this. 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.”

Insight Lander

This historic discovery was achieved with the help of the InSight (Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy, and Heat Transport) mission, which is the first probe of NASA to reach the red planet in six years following the August 2012 landing of the Curiosity Rover. The unmanned probe is expected to dig deeper into the planet than anything that has come before. InSight has several ingenious insulating barriers, including a cover called the Wind and Thermal Shield, which protects it from extreme temperature changes and high winds.

The lander had originally been scheduled to blast off in March 2016, but NASA suspended its launch preparations when a vacuum leak was found in the craft’s prime science instrument. In February, NASA encountered a problem with InSight after it stopped digging, likely due to hitting a rock or gravel, an issue which has since been resolved.

Results from the Quake on Mars

Unfortunately, the detected tremors were not enough to gather any influential data about the interior of the red planet. The actual sound is too low for human ears to detect and the sound provided for us to hear is an enhanced version of the original recording. The other three tremors were also too faint to give some valuable information. The seismic activity, however, is quite similar to moonquakes. The Moon also doesn’t have any plate tectonics and its quakes are caused by the shrinking of its interior. Regardless of its cause, the Sol 128 signal is an exciting milestone for the team because the detection of these tiny quakes required a huge feat of engineering.

Astronomers believe that with a good collection of signals from quake on Mars, we can start to put together a 3D picture of the inside of Mars much in the same way that a doctor uses an MRI to image the inside of your body without having to cut you open. While revealing the interior of the planet, SEIS may even be able to tell us if there’s liquid water or plumes of active volcanoes underneath the Martian surface or not. The InSight Mission will continue to operate for another 18 months on the red planet so we must keep our fingers crossed.

The short audio clip below suggests that the seismic activity sounds almost like the rumbling of a train slowly moving by in the distance. It is preceded by the sound of wind and followed by the movement of a robotic arm which gives the audio the feel of a surreal sleep sound machine.

The First Detected Quake on Mars

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