NASA has reported that on May 4, its InSight Mars lander detected the largest quake ever observed on another planet.
The rover first landed on Mars in November 2018, and has since heard 1,313 quakes. The largest previously recorded “marsquake” was detected in August 2021.
What are marsquakes, and why do they happen?
On Earth, quakes are caused by shifts in tectonic plates. Mars, however, does not have tectonic plates, and its crust is a giant plate. Therefore, NASA notes, ‘marsquakes’ are caused due to stresses that cause rock fractures or faults in its crust.
What is InSight doing on Mars?
- InSight is not looking for life on Mars, but is studying what Mars is made of, how its material is layered, and how much heat seeps out of it.
- This is important because Earth and Mars used to be similar — warm, wet and shrouded in thick atmospheres — before they took different paths 3-4 billion years ago. Mars stopped changing, while Earth continued to evolve.
- With InSight, scientists hope to compare Earth and Mars, and better understand how a planet’s starting materials make it more or less likely to support life.
- There are other missions to Mars that are looking for life on the planet, which makes Insight’s mandate unique. It mostly boils down to the possibility that the atmosphere of Mars was once warm enough to allow water to flow through its surface, which could mean life existed there too.