Listen to the most powerful earthquake recorded on Mars!

May 4 (or 1.222and Martian day), the ground of Mars shook again. And what a shock! of a magnitude currently estimated at 5, this new earthquake comes to dethrone, and by far, the two major previous earthquakes (see our article below). It would also be the strongest tremor ever detected on another planet.

The Martian Big One finally detected?

If for the Earth a magnitude of 5 is rather considered average, the most powerful earthquakes can reach a magnitude of 9, but scientists consider that this could be the maximum magnitude that the Red Planet would be able to produce. Remember that Mars does not have, like Earth, tectonic plates currently active. However, it is this which is at the origin of the vast majority of powerful earthquakes. InSight might therefore have recorded the Martian Big One!

An earthquake that should allow us to learn a lot more about the deep parts of Mars

New data which must at this time cause the excitement of the scientific community. Since InSight landed on Mars in November 2018, more than 1,313 earthquakes have been recorded, most of them small in magnitude. However, by programming this mission, what the researchers hoped to detect was indeed an event of this magnitude. Because the moreenergy released at the time of the earthquake, the greater the seismic waves spread far and deep, thus making it possible to “probe” the interior of the planet. Already, the last major earthquake, of magnitude 4.2 detected in August 2021, had allowed the reception of waves having crossed the outer core of the planet. A first ! We can therefore expect this new earthquake to bring a wealth of additional and unpublished information concerning the internal structure of Marsespecially on the deepest parts of the coat and on the core.

Analyzes that will take time

But patience will be required. Scientists will have to study in detail the data transmitted by InSight in order to first determine theepicenter, the depth of the earthquake and refine the value of the magnitude. Depending on these results, the analysis of the waves recorded by the seismometer from InSight will certainly make it possible to build a velocity model of the interior of the planet and to study its structure and composition. Essential data to better understand the formation of rocky planets.

The two most powerful earthquakes ever recorded on Mars

For the first time, the InSight seismometer, placed on the surface of Mars, recorded two earthquakes of magnitude greater than 4. The epicenters would be located at a great distance from the measuring station. Crucial new data to better understand the internal structure of the Red Planet.

Article of Morgane Gillard published on April 26, 2022

landed on the surface of Mars, InSight records since November 2018 all the seismic activity that regularly shakes the Red Planet. Equipped with a seismometer but also with an instrument for measuring the flow of heatInsight aims to collect data that will lead to a better understanding of the internal structure of the planet, its formation and its evolution.

Because the seismology brings a lot of information on the different envelopes that make up the planets. Analysis seismic waves has thus greatly contributed to our knowledge of the interior of the Earth and to the characterization of the deep layers, in particular the mantle and the core, which are not accessible by any other geophysical method.

As on Earth, seismic waves make it possible to “see” inside Mars

During an earthquake, waves travel in all directions inside the Earth. Their shape as well as their speed will depend mechanical characteristics environments crossed. The recording of the waves and their analysis will thus make it possible to estimate the density of the medium, to know if it is solid or liquid, and to make assumptions about its composition. This principle also applies to Mars as to any other rocky planet.

Because, like the Earth, Mars is shaken by earthquakes. But there are some differences. On our planet, the most powerful earthquakes are generated by tectonic processes. It is these earthquakes that will make it possible to image the interior of the planet most deeply. However, Mars does not have plate tectonics. The tremors recorded on the Red Planet have other origins. The thermal contraction of the surface part of the planet, but also landslides, could be the cause of Martian earthquakes. However, these are of much lower intensity than the earthquakes of tectonic origin that we know on Earth.

Insight detects two earthquakes of magnitude greater than 4

Never mind. InSight’s ear is sensitive and, in 3 years, has recorded more than 950 seismic events, providing proof that the planet was indeed subject to seismic activity. But the low power of these earthquakes did not allow deep imaging of the interior of the planet, the instrument being able to detect only earthquakes whose source was relatively close. In August and September 2021, however, InSight detected two larger events, of magnitude Mw 4.2 (S0976a) and 4.1 (S1000a). To date, these are the two most powerful earthquakes recorded on Mars.

More importantly, the source of these earthquakes is located at a great distance from the small measuring station, at the other end of the planet. The epicenter of the S0976a earthquake, of magnitude 4.2, is located in Valles Marineristhe gigantic canyon scarring the surface of the planet. Previous studies showed the presence of recent faults and landslides inside the Valles Marineris, suggesting that this zone was seismically active. InSight is now proving it.

For the first time, Insight records waves that have passed through the Martian core

The origin of the S1000a earthquake, of magnitude 4.1, could not be determined with precision. But the scientists are certain that it is located at a great distance from the seismometer, the waves received being characteristic of the shadow zone of the core. During this earthquake, InSight recorded very specific wave arrivals. These are P waves.Diff, small amplitude waves whose characteristics indicate that they have crossed the boundary between the core and the mantle. This event is thus the first to make it possible to image the interior of the Red Planet so deeply.

The two earthquakes also appear to have different causes. The one that took place in the region of Valles Marineris would have a deep source, perhaps 50 km or more, while the second would be much more superficial.

All the results have been published in the journal The Seismic Record. Scientists are now working to sift through these recordings. Detailed analysis of the seismic signal could identify new phases, such as S wavesDiffwhich would make it possible to refine the velocity models for the crustthe mantle and the core of Mars.

Right now, receive the Mag Futura for free by subscribing to our subscriptions!

Did you know that you can access Futura without ads via our subscriptions?
At the moment, you can discover this advantage with our special offer: subscribe to the “I participate in the life of Futura” (for a minimum of 3 months) and receive the Mag Futura at home* (worth €19)!

*Mag Futura is sent after the third month of registration.

Interested in what you just read?

Leave a Comment