NASA robot on Mars hears planet rumble during 90-minute earthquake

NASA’s Mars InSight lander took a selfie in early 2019. By this point, it had collected a thin layer of dust.

NASA / JPL-Caltech

This story is part of Welcome to mars, our series exploring the red planet.

NASA’s Mars InSight lander had two big reasons to celebrate September 18. It marked the 1,000th Martian day of the lander (called “sol”) on the Red Planet, and it was also the day he detected a fantasy of nearly an hour and a half. earthquake estimated to reach a magnitude of 4.2. Talk about making things happen.

It’s been a series of earthquakes for InSight lately. It also recorded earthquakes of magnitude 4.1 and 4.2 on August 25. These three recent quakes broke the previous holder of the lander’s magnitude record, a 3.7 recorded in 2019. As NASA JPL pointed out in a statement on Wednesday, an earthquake of 4.2 has five times l energy of an earthquake of 3.7.

Earthquakes tell a story. “Waves change as they pass through a planet’s crust, mantle and core, providing scientists with a way to peer deep below the surface,” NASA said. “What they learn can shed light on the formation of all rocky worlds, including the Earth and its moon.”

InSight landed on March at the end of 2018 and deployed its seismometer in December of that year. The lander’s stationary status may make it less convincing than its wheeled rover parent, but the mission has revealed a lot of new information about the mysterious Mars.

A a group of studies published in early 2020 used data from InSight to paint an intriguing picture of an active Martian subsoil. InSight has established, without question, that Mars is a seismically active planet. Another wave of studies from the start of the year showed how scientists could use the work of InSight to map the interior of another planet for the first time.

InSight’s recent earthquake detections are a triumph for another reason. A thick layer of dust on the lander’s solar panels put the mission in a precarious position. NASA expected a whirlwind to come and clean them up, but that did not happen. To keep the undercarriage at a high level, the The InSight team found a clever way to clean up some of the dust by running a little dirt on the panels. It worked.

Scientists are still studying the most recent earthquake, but they’ve already figured out that the 4.2 August quake originated 5,280 miles (8,500 kilometers), making it the most distant March earthquake ever detected by InSight. The 4.1 was born just 575 miles (925 kilometers) away.

The latest earthquake data will help us better understand the interior of Mars. We know for sure that the red planet is shaking quite a bit.

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Travis Durham

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