July 16, 2024

All Mars orbiters collaborate to track the largest marsquake ever recorded

A recent collaboration between NASA’s InSight lander and various space agencies with orbiters around Mars has successfully traced the source of the strongest marsquake ever detected. In May 2022, InSight picked up a marsquake with a magnitude of 4.7, surpassing all previous seismic activities on Mars. Dubbed S1222a, this quake released energy equivalent to the combined energy of all other marsquakes detected during InSight’s five-year mission.

Mars is not known for having active plate tectonics, leading scientists to initially suspect that S1222a was caused by a meteoroid impact on the surface. Such impacts produce seismic waves similar to quakes. Based on the magnitude of the quake, it was estimated that a crater measuring a minimum of 300 meters wide would have been created. To confirm this hypothesis, a comprehensive search was conducted by all agencies operating Mars orbiters.

This large-scale undertaking required the coordination of multiple agencies, including NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA), the Chinese National Space Agency (CNSA), the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), and the United Arab Emirates Space Agency (UAESA). Each agency analyzed data from their respective satellites, searching for evidence of a new crater or a dust cloud associated with the quake.

After several months of investigation, no new crater or other evidence was found. As a result, it has been concluded that the marsquake was caused by tectonic forces within the planet itself, indicating that Mars is more seismically active than previously believed.

Dr. Benjamin Fernando, the lead author of the study, explained that while Mars is not currently thought to have active plate tectonics, the quake was likely a result of stress release within the planet’s crust. These stress forces have accumulated over billions of years due to the cooling and shrinking of different parts of Mars at varying rates. The discovery of higher stress levels in certain areas of the planet raises further questions that scientists hope to explore. This information may eventually be crucial in determining suitable locations for human settlements on Mars.

In December 2022, InSight retired from its mission after detecting S1222a. Despite its farewell, the lander can rest assured that it contributed significant insights into the seismology of Mars. The collaborative effort between various space agencies has shed light on the planet’s dynamic nature, opening doors for further research and exploration.

1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
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