The Mystery Behind Marsquakes

By Sandeep Poddar

Mars has been mankind’s wonderland since the very advent of scientific revolution. With the advancement in technology, we have been able to delayer the mysteries posed by the red planet. Various exploration missions by NASA and other world class agencies have documented various facts and events occurring on the planet. Highly advanced rovers like Spirit, Opportunity and Curiosity have roamed miles on the Martian terrains and have transmitted a spectrum of data revealing the topography, weather, atmospheric configuration etc. All this data has led us to a clearer knowledge of the red planet. The frequent events recorded on the planet cast a pattern and help us develop a sound understanding of Martian nature. As Earth-dweller, we are fascinated about the composition & nature of Mars and the possibility of existence of life on this planet for its astounding similarity with earth. One such event is the Martian ‘Earthquakes’, better termed as ‘Marsquake’.

Marsquake Visualizer

Quakes have earlier been detected on Moons and even Venus, but in Mars, despite being somewhat similar to Earth in lithospheric composition, quakes are seldom to be felt. Marsquakes occur once in a million years or so. Mars, we can say, has a reputation of being seismically inactive. The real estate builders may find this as a good future possibility on Mars! But, to their hard luck, a recent seismic activity has been detected on the Mars by NASA’s InSight lander on 6 April 2019. The lander’s seismometer detected ground vibrations while three distinct kinds of sounds were recorded, according to NASA. Three other events were recorded on 14 March, 10 April, and 11 April, but these signals were even smaller and more ambiguous in origin, making it difficult to determine their cause. This historical event follows a long time attempt to detect any seismic movement on the planet since 1975, Viking Mission. Below is the recorded audio of the marsquake (thanks to NASA).

Audio-Visual of Marsquake

InSight’s seismometer, SEIS, the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure, is a round, dome-shaped instrument that sits on the Martian surface and takes the “pulse” or seismic vibrations of Mars. This is much like a Doctor’s stethoscope used to measure heartbeats. The device craves for any pulse, or wave or even meteorite thumps with substantial sensitivity and can detect surface movements even smaller than Hydrogen atom. It houses a number of sensors inside 3 Liter volume vacuum chamber that run on up to 8.5 W power and returns 38 Megabits of data every day. The SEIS depends on waves that travel up to long distances inside the planet and even get altered due to various materials on the way. This helps understand the detail of the internal structure of the planet. Scientists believe that the area up to 1000-2000 Km around the SEIS have experienced quakes 1-10 million years ago. That’s recent for a planet. Mars has a number of evidence that mark various gigantic movements caused by volcanic eruptions like Olympus Mons (the highest volcanic peak in the solar system) or Elysium Mons and tectonic cracks like the iconic 4,000 km (2,500 mi) long canyon system, Valles Marineris, which has been suggested to be the remnant of an ancient Martian strike-slip fault.

SEIS Cutaway structure

This historical discovery has brought a wave of relief and happiness to the scientific community that has worked on this. Upon finding, scientists at NASA have expressed their excitement saying “InSight’s first readings carry on the science that began with NASA’s Apollo missions,” as said by the InSight Principal Investigator Bruce Banerdt of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. “We’ve been collecting background noise up until now, but this first event officially kicks off a new field: Martian seismology!” he added. We believe science has all the answers to our questions. All it requires is a quest from us. We do worship Earth as our mother, but deep inside, still are obsessed with Mars. Aren’t we?

This article got featured as cover story in a leading Science Digital Magazine ‘Scientia Magazine’.

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Published by sandeeeppoddar777

A Science Nerd and a Life long Learner..

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