(ORDO NEWS) — The InSight Mars lander recorded the largest earthquake ever observed on another planet: a magnitude 5 earthquake occurred on May 4, 2022, on the 1222nd Martian day, or sol, of the mission.
This adds to the catalog of more than 1,313 earthquakes recorded by InSight since landing on Mars in November 2018. The largest previously recorded earthquake with a magnitude of 4.2 was recorded on August 25, 2021.
InSight was sent to Mars with a highly sensitive seismometer provided by the French National Center for Space Research (CNES) to study the deep interior of the planet.
As seismic waves travel through or reflect off the material of the Martian crust, mantle, and core, they change in such a way that seismologists can determine the depth and composition of these layers.
What scientists learn about Mars’ structure could help them better understand the formation of all rocky worlds, including the Earth and its Moon.
The magnitude 5 quake is a medium-sized quake compared to those that occur on Earth, but close to the upper end of what scientists were hoping to see on Mars during the InSight mission.
The science team will have to continue studying this new quake before it can provide details such as its location, the nature of the source, and what it can tell us about the interior of Mars.
Ever since we installed the seismometer in December 2018, we’ve been waiting for “big,” said Bruce Banerdt, InSight principal investigator at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, which is leading the mission.
This earthquake will surely provide a view of the planet like no other. “Scientists will analyze this data to learn new things about Mars for years to come.”
The massive quake came as InSight ran into new problems with the solar panels that power the craft. As InSight is on Mars during the winter, more and more dust gets into the air, reducing the amount of sunlight available to recharge the batteries.
On May 7, 2022, the amount of available power fell just below the limit that triggers a safe mode where the spacecraft suspends all but essential functions. This process is intended to protect the ship and may be repeated as the available energy gradually decreases.
After completing the primary mission at the end of 2020 and meeting initial science goals, NASA has extended the mission until December 2022.
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