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NASA's InSight lander has likely detected its first 'marsquake'

Julia Rosen, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

Scientists want to study how seismic waves propagate through the planet to determine its structure and composition. This will give them clues about what its internal layers look like, which in turn will tell them about how the planet formed and help them determine the size of its core.

The April 6 seismic event was too small to do that. InSight also recorded three other possible marsquakes, which were even smaller.

Researchers don't yet know what caused the quakes. "At this point, we haven't ruled any mechanisms," Weber said.

Mars does not have tectonic plates that crash into each other -- the primary cause of quakes on Earth. One possible explanation is that the Martian crust is cracking as it cools.

However, Weber said the events will certainly teach scientists about the nature of seismic activity on Mars and the upper layers of the planet that the waves traveled through.

Before InSight landed, researchers hypothesized that Mars might fall somewhere between the Earth and the moon, where astronauts placed seismometers during the Apollo missions.

"The first few are looking a little more moon-like than Earth-like, but it's still very early," Weber said.


She's optimistic that InSight will eventually record more intense shaking -- either from a meteorite impact or an internal source -- that will give researchers a better view of the planet's deep interior.

The mission has a lifetime of two Earth years, though it will likely last longer if its solar powered instruments keep working.

"It's a waiting game," she said. "We just have to wait until the planet cooperates."

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