Scientists discover the cause of InSight’s most powerful Marsquake through international collaboration

Scientists Solve Mystery Behind Marsquake

A team of international scientists has successfully determined the cause of the largest seismic event ever recorded on Mars. This seismic event, also known as a Marsquake, occurred on May 4, 2022, and was observed by NASA’s InSight Mars lander. After ruling out a meteor impact, the team concluded that the quake was caused by a release of stress within Mars’ crust.

The Marsquake, named S1222a, was five times stronger than any event previously observed by InSight. It had a magnitude of 4.7 and reverberated through Mars’ crust for approximately six hours. The team noticed similarities between this event and earlier Martian seismic events that were identified as meteor impacts. This led them to search for a possible impact crater on the Martian surface.

To conduct their search, the team relied on observations from missions currently orbiting Mars. This collaborative effort involved the European Space Agency (ESA), the Chinese National Space Agency, the Indian Space Research Organisation, and the United Arab Emirates Space Agency. By combining their data, the team hoped to locate a crater with a diameter of 300 meters and a blast zone spanning 180 kilometers if the Marsquake was indeed caused by a meteor impact.

However, finding a fresh crater associated with a seismic event is challenging. Blast zones fade over time and can be obscured in certain terrains, making them difficult to identify. Additionally, high-resolution images from spacecraft in orbit are limited in availability and have narrow fields of view. This means that certain regions may not have been imaged before an impact, making it impossible to compare before and after photos in the search for a fresh crater.

Despite these challenges, the team utilized the combined output of all current Mars missions to overcome these hurdles. They found no evidence of an impact crater that could explain the measured seismic event, leading them to conclude that the Marsquake was a tectonic event within Mars’ crust. The epicenter of the quake was located 2,200 kilometers from InSight, outside the region known for tectonic activity called Cerberus Fossae.

The team believes that Mars does not currently have active plate tectonics. Instead, the release of stress within the planet’s crust is likely a result of billions of years of evolution, including the cooling and shrinking of different parts of Mars at different rates. Understanding these stresses can provide valuable information for future human missions to Mars, helping to identify safe locations for colonization.

The S1222a Marsquake occurred near the end of InSight’s mission, when some of its sensors were turned off to conserve power. Despite this limitation, InSight still detected an impressive 1,319 Marsquakes before its retirement in December 2022. Scientists continue to analyze the data collected by InSight, even after the end of its mission.

The study conducted by Benjamin Fernando and his team was published in Geophysical Research Letters on October 17, 2023. This successful international collaboration demonstrates the importance of maintaining a diverse set of instruments at Mars and sets a template for future deep space collaborations.

To wrap it up, solving the mystery behind the largest Marsquake observed by InSight showcases the progress made in our understanding of the Red Planet’s geology. With each new discovery, scientists are getting closer to unlocking the secrets of Mars and paving the way for future human exploration. The golden age of Mars exploration is truly upon us.