NASA's InSight registers the biggest quake on another planet so far

It has already cataloged 1,300 smaller quakes since landing on the Red Planet.
Ameya Paleja
Spectrogram showing highest magnitude quake recorded on any other planetNASA-JPL

On May 4, 2022, NASA's InSight lander logged its 1,222nd Martian day of its mission. It was also the day its seismometer logged a magnitude five quake on Mars, the strongest humanity has recorded on any planet so far, NASA said in a post on the JPL website

InSight landed on Martian soil in November 2018 and has been tasked with knowing more about the deep interiors of the Red Planet. To do so, it employs a seismometer called Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) which looks nothing more than a covered cake tin. Under the domed, wind, and thermal shield, SEIS, keeps a tab of all seismic activity and has cataloged more than 1,300 smaller quakes to date. 

The strongest quake recorded yet

SEIS is provided by the French Space Agency, Centre National d’Études Spatiales (CNES), and looks at changes in seismic waves as they pass through Mars' crust, mantle, and core. By studying these changes, scientists can determine the depth and composition of these layers. Learnings from Mars can then be applied to explore other celestial objects, such as the Moon, and even our Earth better.  

Months after landing on Mars, InSight reported its first 'marsquake', seismic activity equivalent to 2.5 magnitudes, here on Earth. However, scientists were confident that there were more powerful quakes on the Red Planet and had to wait over four years to record a magnitude five quake earlier this month. 

“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 analyzing this data to learn new things about Mars for years to come.”

This quake beat the previous record for the highest magnitude quakes achieved just last month after the lander detected two enormous quakes of magnitude up to 4.2. 

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Will we see data from InSight again? 

Like NASA's other missions, InSight was a limited-time mission, scheduled to remain in service until 2020. However, the lander has now entered year two of its extended mission, and the Martian environment has begun to take a toll. 

InSight's solar panels have run into trouble of late, and with winter approaching at its location, sunlight will be scarce due to increased dust on the Martian surface. Days after recording its strongest quake, InSight went into a safe mode after its energy levels dropped below a prescribed limit, NASA said in its post. Designed to protect the lander, the safe mode might be activated again as available power decreases.  

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