Mysterious ‘Marsquakes’ detected by Nasa’s Insight lander in sign of volcanic activity


Mysterious rumblings known as ‘Marsquakes’ have been detected by Nasa’s InSight lander, offering further clues about volcanic activity beneath the surface of the Red Planet.

The tremors originated in a region called Cerberus Fossae – an area where Nasa scientists have picked up significant seismical activity and even landslides in the past.   

They believe the tremors were likely caused by a sudden release of energy beneath the surface of the planet, but as Mars doesn’t have tectonic plates like Earth, the precise cause and origins of the rumblings remain unknown.      

The quakes were picked up by InSight’s seismometer, an onboard device specially built to capture Marsquakes.

Using its robotic arm, InSight has partially buried the seismometer to protect it from strong seasonal winds and allow for more accurate readings. 

NASA’s InSight has detected two large quakes on Mars in a region called Cerberus Fossae, further supporting the idea that this location is seismically active

An artist's rendition of the InSight lander operating on the surface of Mars. It is supporting several other missions orbiting the Red Planet

An artist’s rendition of the InSight lander operating on the surface of Mars. It is supporting several other missions orbiting the Red Planet

THREE MISSIONS TO MARS IN 2021: US, UAE AND CHINA AT OR ON THE RED PLANET

So far 2021 has been the ‘year of Mars’ with three spaceships from Earth arriving at the Red Planet.

The first visitor from Earth to arrive was also a first for the Arab world – the United Arab Emirates ‘Hope’ probe.  

This spaceship is going to monitor the weather on Mars over a full year.

The second ship was from China – Tianwen-1 will orbit Mars until May when it will deploy a rover.

This will make China only the second country after the US to land a rover on Mars if it is succesful.

NASA’s Perseverance was the last of the three to arrive in Martian orbit, but the first to land on the Red Planet. 

 The area here the quakes were detected – Cerberus Fossae – is a steep-sided area cut into volcanic plains where active landslides were photographed in 2019.

Intriguingly, the quakes occurred almost exactly one Martian year – or two Earth years – after two previous quakes were detected in the same area.

InSight has recorded over 500 quakes to date, but because of their clear signals, these four were the best quake records for probing the interior of the planet, Nasa said in a statement announcing the quakes. 

Taichi Kawamura of France’s Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris, which provides support to the Nasa mission, said the quakes added to scientists understanding of volcanic activity on the planet. 

‘Over the course of the mission, we’ve seen two different types of Marsquakes: one that is more ‘Moon-like’ and the other, more ‘Earth-like,’ he said.

Earthquake waves travel more directly through the planet, while those of moonquakes tend to be very scattered, said Kawamura. 

Marsquakes fall somewhere in between. 

‘Interestingly all four of these larger quakes, which come from Cerberus Fossae, are ‘Earth-like.’ 

InSight launched from  Vandenberg Air Force Base in California in May 2018, touching down on Mars in November that year with the mission of giving the planet its first thorough check-up since it formed 4.5 billion years ago. 

It is working in conjunction with several missions orbiting Mars and roving around on the planet’s surface: including the Curiosity rover.

InSight’s ability to adapt to the incredibly harsh conditions on the planet has given in an effort to gain more accurate data. 

It regularly faces extreme swings in temperature – from minus 148 Fahrenheit during the night to 32 Fahrenheit – and fierce seasonal winds. 

Its hoped that the Martian summer will bring calmer weather, making it easier to detect other quakes. 

In order to record more accurate data, the InSight lander has begun using a scoop on its robotic arm to place soil over the cable connecting its seismometer – called the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) – to the spacecraft. 

‘That allows the soil to get as close to the shield as possible without interfering with the shield’s seal with the ground.’  

Scientists hope insulating it from the wind will make it easier to detect Marsquakes.    

The new quakes were slightly smaller than two previous quakes of magnitude 3.6 and 3.5 detected n the same region.   

InSight has recorded over 500 quakes to date, but because of their clear signals, these are four of the best quake records for probing the interior of the planet. 

Since arriving in November 2018, the InSight lander has worked with several missions orbiting Mars and roving around on the planet's surface: including the Curiosity rover

Since arriving in November 2018, the InSight lander has worked with several missions orbiting Mars and roving around on the planet’s surface: including the Curiosity rover

In 2019, Nasa picked up evidence of active landslides at Cerberus Fossae, a set of troughs cut into volcanic plains on Mars

In 2019, Nasa picked up evidence of active landslides at Cerberus Fossae, a set of troughs cut into volcanic plains on Mars

The Curiosity rover also snapped a pair of panoramas using its Mastcam camera

The Curiosity rover also snapped a pair of panoramas using its Mastcam camera

Earlier this week, NASA‘s Curiosity Mars rover snapped a picture of itself with a selfie with the 20ft-tall ‘Mont Mercou’ rock formation.

The selfie shows the rover alongside a rock formation dubbed ‘Mont Mercou’, a nickname taken from a mountain in France.

And while the photo is impressive on its own, it was actually taken to celebrate Curiosity’s 30th sample to date, after the rover drilled a hole at a nearby rock sample nicknamed ‘Nontron.’

Curiosity also snapped a pair of panoramas using its Mastcam on March 4.

NASA explained: ‘By shooting one panorama from about 130 feet (40 meters) away from the outcrop, then rolling to the side and shooting another from the same distance, the rover created a stereoscopic effect similar to those seen in 3D viewfinders.

‘Studying the outcrop from more than one angle helps scientists get a better idea of the 3D geometry of Mount Mercou’s sedimentary layers.’ 

Curiosity is the largest and most capable rover ever sent to Mars, and is part of NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory mission. 

It launched from Earth on November 26, 2011 and landed on Mars almost a year later, on August 5, 2012.

The rover’s key mission is to unravel they mystery of whether or not Mars ever had the right conditions to support life. 

NASA added: ‘Early in its mission, Curiosity’s scientific tools found chemical and mineral evidence of past habitable environments on Mars. 

‘It continues to explore the rock record from a time when Mars could have been home to microbial life.’



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