Rumble in the Red Planet: Nasa says 450 jolts have shaken Mars - GulfToday

Rumble in the Red Planet: Nasa says 450 jolts have shaken Mars


A life-size model of the spaceship Insight, Nasa's first robotic lander dedicated to studying the deep interior of Mars, is shown at Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. File / Reuters

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We earthlings are always fascinated by what life can be like in outer space, whether it exists there at all.

There have been several movies made that revolve around the theme of Mars, for instance.

One that rivets attention is The Martian, where Hollywood star Matt Damon plays the role of an astronaut who is stranded on Mars and how he uses his wits to survive there.

A spacecraft built by the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre is headed for the Red Planet later this year.

Now comes a fresh revelation: Nasa’s newest Mars Lander has confirmed that quakes and even aftershocks are regularly jolting the red planet.

A series of research papers focus on the 174 Marsquakes noted through last September.

Mars-1-750x450 The Nasa Martian lander InSight dedicated to investigating the deep interior of Mars is seen in an undated artist's rendering.  Reuters

Twenty-four were relatively strong – magnitude 3 to 4 – and apparently stemmed from distant underground triggers.

The rest were smaller, with uncertain magnitude and origin. Even the stronger quakes would not have posed a hazard to anybody on the planet's surface, researchers said in a press conference.

The overall tally has since jumped to more than 450 Marsquakes, most of them small, InSight's lead scientist, Bruce Banerdt of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in an email.

Scientists reported on Monday that the seismometer from the InSight spacecraft has detected scores of Marsquakes.

The basic cause of Martian quakes is a long-term cooling of the planet, which makes it contract, fracturing its brittle outer layers, Banerdt told reporters. But it's not clear what detailed mechanisms bring on specific quakes, he said.

While the team cannot rule out meteor impacts, the source of the tremors appears to be underground, according to the researchers.

Nevertheless, Mars-orbiting spacecraft are on the lookout for signs of recent impacts, and InSight's cameras scan the night sky for meteors. So far, they've come up empty.

Banerdt said he had hoped to find more larger quakes, which are useful for probing deeper under the planet's surface. In an email, he said, "Another year of observations will be needed to complete the goals of the mission.”

InSight landed in a small crater in Mars' Elysium Planitia in November 2018. Its French seismometer was placed directly on the volcanic plain the following month.

This region has especially turbulent weather, with dust devil-like vortexes.

The lander still has another year of geological observations for a total of two years, or one full Martian year. There likely are more quakes occurring than the seismometer is registering; interference from wind and other weather conditions can mask the measurements.

And while no Marsquakes with magnitudes greater than 4 have been detected, that doesn't mean they aren't occurring, according to Banerdt.

Banerdt describes Mars as moderately active from a seismic standpoint, more than the moon but less than Earth. The findings are close to initial predictions. The moon's seismic activity is known thanks to instruments left behind a half-century ago by the Apollo astronauts.

"Knowledge of the level of seismic activity is crucial for investigating the interior structure and understanding Mars’ thermal and chemical evolution,” Banerdt wrote in an overview article in Nature Geoscience. The journal as well as Nature Communications feature four papers from the InSight team.

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