A quake of magnitude 5 shook the surface of Mars on May 4, as per a seismometer placed by NASA’s InSight lander on the planet. The seismic event has been dubbed a “monster” quake by the space agency given that it is the strongest temblor ever detected not just on Mars but also on any planet other than Earth. The red planet had previously recorded seismic events of magnitude 4.2 and magnitude 4.1 in August 2021. The space agency had found that these quakes were, in turn, five times stronger than the previous largest seismic event recorded on the planet.
The new “monster” quake occurred on 1,222nd sol (Martian day) of the lander’s mission. Since Insight landed on Mars in 2018, the planet has witnessed over 1,313 quakes. As per NASA, a magnitude 5 quake is comparable to a medium-size quake on Earth. However, the magnitude is closer to the upper limit of what the scientist expected to observe on the red planet during the mission.
The quake was detected by InSight on a “highly sensitive seismometer” which was provided by France’s Centre National d’Études Spatiales (CNES), NASA said. The objective of the seismometer is to study the deep interior of the planet and quakes play an important role in aiding the research. As per the space agency, the seismic waves “pass through or reflect off material in Mars’ crust, mantle, and core.” In doing so, they alter and modify the parameters that can help seismologists study the composition and other features of these layers.
Speaking about the quake, Bruce Banerdt, InSight’s principal investigator at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California that leads the mission, said that this was the “big one” that the team has been waiting for since they set down their seismometer in December 2018. “This quake is sure to provide a view into the planet like no other,” he said. “Scientists will be analysing this data to learn new things about Mars for years to come.”
While the quake promises the possibilities of exciting new scientific discoveries, it also comes at a time when the lander is running into some operation troubles. On May 7, InSight saw a drop in available energy below a level that caused it to slip into a safe mode. This means that the spacecraft suspends all but the most essential functions.
Last month, the seismometer placed by NASA’s InSight lander had detected two marsquakes of magnitude 4.2 and magnitude 4.1.