NASA’s InSight probe detected two earthquakes on Mars in the region called Cerberus Fossae. The 3.3 and 3.1 magnitude tremors took place on March 18 of this year, in the same place where others of 3.6 and 3.5 had been registered on March 7.
It is important to remember that the red planet does not have tectonic plates like the Earth, but it does have volcanically active regions that can cause bangs. Cerberus Fossae, for example, is apparently a seismically active site.
“Interestingly, all four major earthquakes, which come from Cerberus Fossae, are similar to Earth,” said Taichi Kawamura, from the Institut de Physique du Globe in Paris, France, who helped supply the InSight seismometer and distributes its data along with the ETH Zurich research university in Switzerland.
The name of an earthquake on Mars is marsquake. Since the start of its mission, InSight has recorded more than 500 seismic shocks, but these are four of the best records for studying the mantle and core of Mars.
“Throughout the mission, we saw two different types of marsquakes: one that is more like the Moon and the other more like Earth,” explained Kawamura.
The InSight seismometer, called the Sismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SIX), is covered by a dome-shaped shield to block it from the wind and prevent it from getting too cold. During the last winter season on northern Mars, the equipment was unable to detect an earthquake. Now, after almost a Martian year (equivalent to two years on Earth), scientists have predicted that this would again be the ideal time to detect the tremors because the winds would be calmer.
“It is wonderful to watch marsquakes again after a long period of wind noise recording. After a Martian year, we are now much faster at characterizing seismic activity on the red planet, ”celebrated John Clinton, a seismologist who leads InSight’s Marsquake Service at ETH Zurich.
Why is it so difficult to detect earthquakes on Mars?
To get an idea of the complexity of the mission, temperatures near the InSight landing module can fluctuate from almost 148 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 100 degrees Celsius) at night to 0 degrees Celsius (32 degrees Fahrenheit) during the day. These extreme temperature variations may be causing the cable connecting the seismometer to the landing module to expand and contract, resulting in popping sounds and spikes in the data.
As for energy, it decreases as Mars moves away from the Sun because InSight’s solar panels are covered with dust. The team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), however, expects energy levels to improve after July, when the planet begins to approach the Sun again. Until then, the mission will successively turn off the instruments of the landing module so that InSight can hibernate, waking up periodically to check its system and communicate with Earth. The team hopes to keep the seismometer on for another month or two before it has to be temporarily turned off.
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