NASA’s InSight Records Monster Quake on Mars – The Largest Ever Detected on Another Planet

InSight Lander on Mars

An artist illustration of the InSight lander on Mars. InSight, short for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport, is designed to give the Red Planet its first thorough checkup since it formed 4.5 billion years ago. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Estimated to be magnitude 5, the quake is the strongest ever detected on another planet.

NASA’s InSight Mars lander has detected the largest quake ever observed on another planet: an estimated magnitude 5 temblor 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 quakes InSight has detected since landing on Mars in November 2018. The biggest quake previously recordedwas an estimated magnitude 4.2 detected on August 25, 2021.

Magnitude 5 Mars Quake Spectrogram

This spectrogram shows the largest quake ever detected on another planet. Estimated at magnitude 5, this quake was discovered by NASA’s InSight lander on May 4, 2022, the 1,222nd Martian day, or sol, of the mission. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ETH Zurich

InSight was sent to Mars with a highly sensitive seismometer, provided by France’s Centre National d’Études Spatiales (CNES), to study the Red Planet’s deep interior. As seismic waves pass through or reflect off material in Mars’ crust, mantle, and core, 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.

Although a magnitude 5 quake is a medium-size quake compared to those felt on Earth, it’s close to the upper limit of what scientists hoped to see on Mars during InSight’s mission. The science team will need to study this new quake further before being able to provide details such as its location, the nature of its source, and what it might tell us about the interior structure of Mars.

Internal Structure of Mars

Artist’s impression of the internal structure of Mars. Credit: © IPGP / David Ducros

“Since we set our seismometer down in December 2018, we’ve been waiting for ‘the big one,’” said Bruce Banerdt, InSight’s principal investigator at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, which leads the mission. “This quake is sure to provide a view into the planet like no other. Scientists will be analyzing this data to learn new things about Mars for years to come.”

The large quake comes as InSight is facing new challenges with its solar panels, which power the mission. As InSight’s location on Mars enters winter, there’s more dust in the air, reducing available sunlight. On May 7, 2022, the lander’s available energy fell 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 occur again as available power slowly decreases.

Magnitude 5 Mars Quake Seismogram

This seismogram shows the largest quake ever detected on another planet. Estimated at magnitude 5, this quake was discovered by NASA’s InSight lander on May 4, 2022, the 1,222 Martian day, or sol, of the mission. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

After the lander completed its prime mission at the end of 2020, meeting its original science goals, NASA extended the mission through December 2022.

More About the Mission

Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) manages InSight for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. InSight is part of NASA’s Discovery Program, managed by the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Lockheed Martin Space in Denver built the InSight spacecraft, including its cruise stage and lander, and supports spacecraft operations for the mission.

A number of European partners, including CNES and the German Aerospace Center (DLR), are supporting the InSight mission. CNES provided the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) instrument to NASA, with the principal investigator at IPGP (Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris). Major contributions for SEIS came from IPGP; the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (MPS) in Germany; the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zurich) in Switzerland; Imperial College London and Oxford University in the United Kingdom; and JPL. DLR provided the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3) instrument, with significant contributions from the Space Research Center (CBK) of the Polish Academy of Sciences and Astronika in Poland. Spain’s Centro de Astrobiología (CAB) supplied the wind and temperature sensors.

1 Comment on "NASA’s InSight Records Monster Quake on Mars – The Largest Ever Detected on Another Planet"

  1. Interesting.

    1. What causes Earthquakes on Planet Earth? We have developed a elaborate Tectonic Plate Theory with Major and Minor Plates floating on the earths core and mantle above the earths crust, where we place the devices like Seismometers to detect such earthquakes.

    2. Do we have the Tectonic plates like theory for the planet Mars developed and if they are floating on a viscous separator above this planets crust, the movement of these plates and their interactions with each other, which is causing Mars quakes?

    3. Forces and momentum of such tectonic plates , as well as energy transfers at Planetary scale are enormous. So the development of a theory for the forces driving such movement of the land (above water and also underwater on planet Earth — could be other liquids like methane etc. on other planets ) on the two planets (MARS & EARTH) and gathering of evidence in the form of data, which can be analyzed to predict likely future events (Earth Quakes , Mars Quakes and/or other Planetary Quakes) is important going forward.

    4. The predictability of Earthquakes is a very important objective for people residing on the planet Earths crust as a few minutes warning can save millions of lives.

    5, Other catastrophic events like volcanoes, Tsunamis and such are also closely interconnected to the effects felt on the external crust especially for “Planetary Bodies” and life residing on such planetary bodies exist.
    6. A few minutes warning can save millions of lives. By the way, other creatures seem to be more clued in and aware of the likely arrival of such catastrophic events and flee inland to save themselves.
    7. Many lives are lost. as we normally build houses of brick, mortar and steel, which cause enormous damage, which can be avoided. I wonder if Japanese Cardboard House technology could be useful and emulated Globally. The Japanese people, being earth quake prone , have developed interesting technologies to minimize damage due to earthquakes.

    California is a nice place.

    Views expressed are personal and not binding on anyone.

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