NASA’s InSight lander may have detected its first quake on Mars, the space agency has announced. The ‘marsquake’ was recorded as a faint seismic signal by the rover’s Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) instrument on April 6. This is the first time humans have recorded quaking that originates from within the planet rather than from something on the surface.
In its announcement today, NASA said experts are still analyzing InSight’s data to determine whether it was, in fact, caused by a ‘marsquake.’ Assuming it does end up being a quake, this would be the first time humans have detected such activity on the Red Planet, adding a new milestone to NASA’s achievements. The instrument was able to pick up on the very weak trembling due to Mars’ ‘extremely quiet’ surface.
The weak nature of this seismic event means NASA didn’t get any ‘solid data’ on the planet’s interior, according to NASA. The event was similar to ‘moonquakes’ that had been detected on the Moon during NASA’s Apollo missions. Thousands of quakes were recorded on the Moon from 1969 to 1977.
InSight deployed its seismometer on the Mars landscape in mid-December 2018. Though NASA is calling this the first likely marsquake, the space agency says three other possible seismic signals were detected on March 14, April 10, and April 11. However, NASA says the signals were weaker and ‘more ambiguous.’
Unlike earthquakes, which result from the movement of tectonic plates, marsquakes are the result of stress created by a continuous cooling and contraction process. The stress builds and builds, eventually becoming strong enough to break the crust, resulting in a detectable quake. This is expected to be the first of multiple marsquakes detected by the SEIS instrument.