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InSight Mars lander detects the largest quake ever observed on another planet

insight mars lander wind and thermal shield covering seismometer

NASA’s InSight Mars lander has detected the largest quake ever observed on another planet – an estimated M5.0 that occurred on May 4, 2022, the 1 222nd Martian day, or sol, of the mission.

The latest detection adds to the catalog of more than 1 313 quakes InSight has detected since landing on Mars in November 2018. The largest previously recorded quake was an estimated magnitude 4.2 detected on August 25, 2021.1

M5.0 quake is a medium-size quake compared to those felt on Earth, but it’s close to the upper limit of what scientists hoped to see on Mars during InSight’s mission. The science team will need to study this new quake further before being able to provide details such as its location, the nature of its source, and what it might tell us about the interior of Mars.

Bruce Banerdt, InSight’s principal investigator, said they’ve been waiting for the ‘big one’ ever since they set the seismometer down in December 2018.

“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,” Banerdt said.

This spectrogram shows the largest quake ever detected on another planet.
This spectrogram shows the largest quake ever detected on another planet. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
This seismogram shows the largest quake ever detected on another planet.
This seismogram shows the largest quake ever detected on another planet. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The large quake comes as InSight is facing new challenges with its solar panels, which power the mission. As InSight’s location on Mars enters winter, there’s more dust in the air, reducing available sunlight. On May 7, 2022, the lander’s available energy fell just below the limit that triggers safe mode, where the spacecraft suspends all but the most essential functions. This reaction is designed to protect the lander and may occur again as available power slowly decreases.

After the lander completed its prime mission at the end of 2020, meeting its original science goals, NASA extended the mission through December 2022.

Reference:

1 NASA’s InSight Records Monster Quake on Mars – NASA/JPL – May 9, 2022

Featured image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

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