InSight’s Spectrogram of the Great Martian Earthquake: This spectrogram shows the largest earthquake ever detected on another planet. Estimated at a magnitude of 5, this earthquake was discovered by NASA’s InSight lander on May 4, 2022, the 1,222nd Martian day, or sol, of the mission. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ETH Zurich. Download picture ›
Estimated at a magnitude of 5, the earthquake is the largest ever detected on another planet.
NASA’s InSight Mars lander has detected the largest earthquake ever seen on another planet: an estimated magnitude 5 quake that occurred on May 4, 2022, the 1,222nd Martian day, or sol, of the mission . This adds to the catalog of more than 1,313 earthquakes InSight has detected since landing on Mars in November 2018. The largest earthquake previously recorded was an estimated magnitude of 4.2 detected on August 25. 2021.
InSight was sent to Mars with a highly sensitive seismometer, provided by France’s Center National d’Etudes Spatiales (CNES), to study the planet’s deep interior. When seismic waves pass through or reflect material in the crust, mantle and core of Mars, they change in ways that seismologists can study to determine the depth and composition of these layers. What scientists learn about the structure of Mars can help them better understand the formation of all rocky worlds, including Earth and its Moon.
A magnitude 5 quake is an average-sized quake compared to those felt on Earth, but it’s near the upper limit of what scientists had hoped to see on Mars during the InSight mission. The science team will need to investigate this new quake further before they can provide details such as its location, the nature of its source and what it might tell us about the interior of Mars.
“Since we landed our seismometer in December 2018, we’ve been waiting for ‘the big one,'” said Bruce Banerdt, InSight principal investigator at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, who is leading the mission. “This earthquake is sure to provide a view of the planet like no other. Scientists will analyze this data to learn new things about Mars in the years to come.”
The big earthquake comes as InSight faces new challenges with its solar panels, which power the mission. As InSight’s Mars location enters winter, there is more dust in the air, reducing available sunlight. On May 7, 2022, the lander’s available energy dropped just below the limit that triggers safe mode, where the spacecraft suspends all but the most essential functions. This reaction is designed to protect the lander and may reoccur as available power slowly decreases.
After the lander completed its primary mission in late 2020, meeting its original science goals, NASA extended the mission until December 2022.
Learn more about the mission
JPL manages InSight for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. InSight is part of NASA’s Discovery program, operated by the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Lockheed Martin Space in Denver built the InSight spacecraft, including its cruiser stage and lander, and is supporting spacecraft operations for the mission.
Several European partners, including CNES and the German Aerospace Center (DLR), support the InSight mission. CNES supplied the SEIS (Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure) instrument to NASA, whose principal researcher is IPGP (Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris). Important contributions to SEIS have come from the IPGP; the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (MPS) in Germany; the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETH Zurich) in Switzerland; Imperial College London and the University of Oxford in the UK; and JPL. DLR provided the Heat Flow and Physical Properties (HP3) instrument, with major contributions from the Space Research Center (CBK) of the Polish Academy of Sciences and Astronika in Poland. The Spanish Centro de Astrobiología (CAB) provided the temperature and wind sensors.
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.
Karen Fox / Alana Johnson
NASA Headquarters, Washington
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