NASA’s InSight Mars lander has detected the largest quake ever observed on another planet. It is an estimated magnitude 5 temblor that occurred on May 4, 2022. This was the 1,222nd Martian dayor of the mission. This adds to the catalog of more than 1,313 quakes InSight has detected since landing on Mars in November 2018. The largest previously recorded quake was an estimated magnitude 4.2 detected Aug. 25, 2021.
InSight was sent to Mars with a highly sensitive seismometer. It was provided by France’s Centre National d’ÉtudesSpatiales (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. What scientists learn about the structure of Mars can help them better understand the formation of all rocky worlds. This includes Earth and its moon.
A magnitude 5 quake is a medium-size quake compared to those felt on Earth. But it’s close to the upper limit of what scientists hoped to see on Mars during InSight’s mission. 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. This powers the mission. As InSight’s location on Mars enters winter. There is more dust in the air which reduces available sunlight. On May 7, 2022, the lander’s available energy fell just below the limit that triggers safe mode. There the spacecraft suspends all but the most essential functions. This reaction is designed to protect the lender 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.