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Explained: What is a ‘marsquake’? Causes and what does it look like?

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NASA records strongest-ever marsquake with tremor at magnitude 5 on Richter scale. NASA's InSight lander 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.

Washington, May 16: NASA's InSight spacecraft has recorded the largest quake ever observed on another planet: an estimated magnitude 5 temblor that occurred on May 4, 2022, the 1,222nd Martian day, or sol, of the mission.

Explained: What is a ‘marsquake’? Causes and what does it look like?

This 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 Aug. 25, 2021.

A magnitude 5 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.

The InSight mission is to study Mars' interior structure, including its crust, mantle, and core. The mission also measures tectonic activity and meteorite impacts on Mars.

What is a marsquake?

A marsquake is a quake which, much like an earthquake, would be a shaking of the surface or interior of the planet Mars as a result of the sudden release of energy in the planet's interior, such as the result of plate tectonics, which most quakes on Earth originate from, or possibly from hotspots such as Olympus Mons or the Tharsis Montes.

The detection and analysis of marsquakes could be informative to probing the interior structure of Mars, as well as identifying whether any of Mars's many volcanoes continue to be volcanically active or not.

What causes a marsquake?

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 does a Marsquake look like?

Provided by the French space agency, Centre National d'Études Spatiales (CNES), the seismometer detected its first marsquake on April 6, 2019. The InSight mission's Marsquake Service, which monitors the data from SEIS, is led by Swiss research university ETH Zurich.

Quakes look and feel different depending on the material their seismic waves pass through. In a new video, scientists at ETH demonstrate this by using data from the Apollo-era seismometers on the Moon, two of the first quakes detected on Mars by SEIS and quakes recorded here on Earth.

By running data from these worlds through a quake simulator, or "shake room," scientists can experience for themselves how different the earthquakes can be. Researchers had to amplify the marsquake signals by a factor of 10 million in order to make the quiet and distant tremors perceptible in comparison to the similarly amplified moonquakes and unamplified earthquakes.

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