Hypnotic animation reveals how seismic waves travel across Mars, months after NASA’s InSight lander recorded quakes on the red planet for the first time
- NASA revealed back in April that the InSight lander had recorded its first marsquake with its SEIS instrument
- Tremors behave differently on different planets based on the materials they must travel through, NASA says
- Scientists compared the Mars data with data from quakes recorded on Earth and on the moon for simulation
Scientists have simulated the path of seismic waves rippling across the red planet.
NASA’s InSight lander detected its first marsquake earlier this year, providing on-the-ground data for the first time on the behaviors of these natural phenomena on Mars.
The ways in which quakes look and feel differ depending on the materials they’re traversing, meaning they may act very differently than what we’re used to here on Earth, the space agency explains.
A new animation shows just how this might play out beneath the surface of Mars.
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WHAT DOES INSIGHT’S SEISMOMETER DO?
The seismometer allows scientists to peer into the Martian interior by studying ground motion — also known as marsquakes.
Each marsquake acts as a kind of flashbulb that illuminates the structure of the planet’s interior.
By analyzing how seismic waves pass through the layers of the planet, scientists can deduce the depth and composition of these layers.
The new simulation comes from a team led by Swiss research university ETH Zurich using data from Apollo-era seismometers on the moon, quakes recorded on Earth, and two marsquakes recorded by InSight’s Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) instrument.
But, the Martian tremors were extremely faint, according to NASA.
‘Researchers had to amplify the marsquake signals by a factor of 10 million in order to make the quiet and distant tremors perceptible in comparison to the similarly amplified moonquakes and unamplified earthquakes,’ NASA said in a recent release.
InSight measured and recorded a seismic signal on April 6 – its 128th Martian day.
While other disturbances have been recorded, previous signals are thought to have been caused by activity above the surface, such as wind.
The suspected marsquake, however, dubbed the Martian sol 128 event, appears to have originated from within the depths.
InSight’s efforts build upon work laid by the Apollo astronauts on the moon during the late 1960s and 70s, which first revealed clues on lunar seismic activity and the interior of the moon.
Similarly, it’s hoped that the seismometer measurements will help to improve our understanding of the happenings deep inside Mars.
While other disturbances have been recorded, previous signals are thought to have been caused by activity above the surface, such as wind. The lander is pictured above in December
The team says the first seismic event was too small to glean any solid data on this front, but they expect it’s just the first of many.
‘The Martian Sol 128 event is exciting because its size and longer duration fit the profile of moonquakes detected on the lunar surface during the Apollo missions,’ said Lori Glaze, Planetary Science Division director at NASA Headquarters.
A robot stationed on the red planet has, for the first time, detected what’s thought to be a ‘marsquake’
According to the scientists, InSight also detected seismic signals on March 14 (Sol 105), April 10 (Sol 132) and April 11 (Sol 133).
These were smaller and picked up by its more sensitive Very Broad Band sensors, NASA says, and scientists are still working to determine their causes.
But, the larger Sol 128 event so far seems promising.
‘We’ve been waiting months for a signal like this,’ said Philippe Lognonné, SEIS team lead at the Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris (IPGP) in France.
‘It’s so exciting to finally have proof that Mars is still seismically active,’ the researcher says.
‘We’re looking forward to sharing detailed results once we’ve had a chance to analyze them.
INSIGHT’S THREE KEY INSTRUMENTS
The lander that could reveal how Earth was formed: InSight lander set for Mars landing on november 26th
Three key instruments will allow the InSight lander to ‘take the pulse’ of the red planet:
Seismometer: The InSight lander carries a seismometer, SEIS, that listens to the pulse of Mars.
The seismometer records the waves traveling through the interior structure of a planet.
Studying seismic waves tells us what might be creating the waves.
On Mars, scientists suspect that the culprits may be marsquakes, or meteorites striking the surface.
Heat probe: InSight’s heat flow probe, HP3, burrows deeper than any other scoops, drills or probes on Mars before it.
It will investigate how much heat is still flowing out of Mars.
Radio antennas: Like Earth, Mars wobbles a little as it rotates around its axis.
To study this, two radio antennas, part of the RISE instrument, track the location of the lander very precisely.
This helps scientists test the planet’s reflexes and tells them how the deep interior structure affects the planet’s motion around the Sun.