NASA detects a quake on Mars for the very first time — using sound

A picture of the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) taken by NASA's Mars InSight landerNASA

  • NASA’s Mars InSight lander just detected its first significant quake on Mars.
  • Researchers on the project have analysed that the quake is more moon-like in nature than earth-like.
  • The discovery of quakes on Mars to kick off a new field of study — Martian seismology.
NASA’s Mars InSight lander, which landed on the Red Planet on 26 November, has successfully measured and recorded a ‘Marsquake’ for the very first time.

The seismic signal was recorded on April 6 — Insight’s 128th day on Mars — and it’s the first tremor to have been recorded that is coming from inside the planet rather than being caused by extraneous forces.


Even though it’s still unknown what caused the quake, scientists at NASA and the National Centre for Space Studies (CNES) — the French apex space agency — have determined that the quakes are more moon-like in nature than similar to earthquakes.

The Martian Sol 128 event is exciting because its size and longer duration fit the profile of moonquakes detected on the lunar surface during the Apollo missions.

Lori Glaze, Planetary Science Division director at NASA Headquarters

One of the reasons for this is that Mars does not have functioning tectonic plates right or even ones that are clearly defined. Even if the plates did exist or move around— that was a long time ago.

According to Bruce Banerdt, the principle investigator on the InSight mission, the discovery of ‘Marsquakes’ kicks off a new field of study — Martian seismology.

We've been collecting background noise up until now, but this first event officially kicks off a new field: Martian seismology.

Bruce Banerdt, InSight Principal Investigator, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory


But, NASA also points out that a quake of this size would barely be detectable on Earth. The only reason it’s significant on Mars is because the planet is so quiet. Three more quakes were also detected on Mars but they were ever weaker. Nonetheless, researchers on the project are optimistic that there are bigger quakes to come in the future.

We’re starting to have many small quakes. By the end of the mission we’ll have a super big quake.

Philippe Lognonné, SEIS team lead at the Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris (IPGP)

InSight’s measurements of significant seismological activity will help with the lander’s primary mission to study the interior of Mars.

While NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab (JLP) leads the Insight mission, CNES provided the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) instrument that helped detect the tremors.

See also:
NASA's new Mars mission just landed - and it could reveal why Earth is habitable but the red planet is not

NASA's InSight lander may not be as sexy as a Mars rover, but here's why the mission matters for Earthlings

NASA Mars InSight lander will be the first spacecraft to study planet's deep interior
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