A Nasa lander has detected the biggest earthquake ever spotted on another planet — rumbling beneath the dusty surface of Mars.
The quake — described by the science team as ‘the big one’ — could offer a crucial insight into what lies below the surface of the Red Planet.
Nasa’s Insight Mars Lander monitors the weather on Mars - and detected a magnitude 5 tremor on May 4 this year.
Estimated to be magnitude 5, the quake is the biggest ever detected on another planet.
InSight was sent to Mars with a highly sensitive seismometer, provided by France’s Centre National d’Études Spatiales (CNES), to study the deep interior of the planet.
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.
“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 analysing this data to learn new things about Mars for years to come.”
What scientists learn about the structure of Mars can help them better understand the formation of all rocky worlds, including Earth and its moon.
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A magnitude 5 quake is a medium-size quake compared to those felt on Earth.
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 of Mars.
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 7 May 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.
After the lander completed its prime mission at the end of 2020, meeting its original science goals, Nasa extended the mission through December 2022.
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