US space agency NASA announced yesterday how a quake had been detected on Mars in a historic first. Some of the world’s most sophisticated and sensitive instrumentation has been employed for this groundbreaking research. But some observers on terra firma have been left underwhelmed by this underground rumblings – so what are the ramifications of this research on Mars?
These quakes will allow the unmanned Mars InSight probe to peer into the Red Planet’s subterranean areas.
Doing so allows NASA scientists to understand Mars’ mysterious internal structure.
The seismic signal was detected by InSight on the NASA lander’s 128th Martian day, on April 6.
This makes it the first time a quake has been detected on another planet other than our own.
The signal is surprisingly weak and space scientists have scrambled to understand why this is.
READ MORE: Bennu goes TECHNICOLOUR in stunning 3D footage
Theories range from the signal emanating from far away, it was of a very low magnitude, or it could be a combination of both.
Mark Panning, a planetary seismologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, admitted “it is hard to know for sure” why the signal is so weak.
One frustration for the scientists is they are currently unable to identify individual components of the seismic signal.
And researchers “don’t yet know Mars well enough to understand the characteristics of the waveforms”.
In any case, this monumental detection “means that we have now entered a new era of planetary geophysics” says Paul Byrne, a planetary scientist at North Carolina State University.
READ MORE: WATCH moment Hayabusa2 drops a BOMB on giant asteroid
He added: “With this finding by InSight, we have or are now listening to the interiors of three of the five major rocky bodies in the inner solar system” – meaning Earth, the Moon and now Mars.
This is just the start of a prolonged and no doubt revelatory mission. As time goes by, more marsquakes will be spied by InSight.
“Hopefully, before very long, we will have a much better understanding not only of the interior of the Red Planet,” and of other rocky planets in general, says Mr Byrne.
Unlike Earth, Mars is a geologically inactive world.
The small size of Earth’s nearest neighbour meant its internal heat – generated by radioactive decay and the remnants of its formation – vanished into space long ago.
READ MORE: Oumuamua astronomer claims exoplanet object hit Earth in 2014
The engine driving so much of Earth’s geological activity, including its earthquakes and volcanoes has turned off long ago.
Although it remains a mystery whether Mars ever had plate tectonics they are certainly out action now.
But although plate tectonics are the cause for much geological activity on Earth, enormous areas of rock still move and slide around under the influence of gravity, long-term erosion, pre-existing structural weaknesses, or perhaps even slithers of heat still seeping out from its cold heart.
InSight’s Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) instrument ismade up of two types of detectors: a high-frequency sensor, designed in France, and a low-frequency sensor, designed in the UK.
InSight will very likely pick up on more genuine marsquakes as time passes, which will be required to unlock the Mars’ geological secrets.
Scientists are unable to learn much about Mars based off a single confirmed tremble, and that particular quake is too weak to reveal much about the planet’s interior structure.
But the April 6 quake, however, has already hinted that marsquakes are different to the ones on Earth.
Lori Glaze, Planetary Science Division director at NASA’s headquarters, said “its size and longer duration fit the profile of moonquakes detected on the lunar surface during the Apollo missions.”