If you’ve ever been in an earthquake (or seen one on TV), you know how terrifying it can be. What you might not know is that Mars also has its own ground-shaking activity, called Marsquakes (because, you know, it’s not Earth, so it can’t be an Earthquake).
How Important Are Marsquakes?
Marsquakes can tell us a lot about what’s under the surface of the Red Planet. Here, we’ll look at marsquakes, what they are, and why we’re so excited to learn about them.
Why Is a Marsquake So Exciting?
Marsquakes are exciting because they provide valuable insights into the interior of Mars, helping us better understand its geology, history, and potential for hosting life. They offer clues about the planet’s tectonic activity and subsurface structure, similar to how earthquakes inform us about Earth.
Signs of Activity on Mars
For a long time, scientists had thought that Mars was “dead” geologically. On Earth, seismic activity is usually followed by volcanoes and earthquakes. However, for a long time, scientists thought that Mars didn’t have enough seismic activity to make it shake. These quakes proved them wrong.
Is Mars Really a Dead Planet?
Mars has some massive volcanoes, but unlike those on Earth, these volcanoes have been dormant for centuries. When a plane is active, volcanoes are usually spewing out new ground every time they erupt. However, since these volcanoes are cold and dead, scientists assumed that the planet would never be seismically active.
Why Is Mars So Different?
The reason Earth is seismically active (why we have earthquakes and volcanoes) is because of something called Tectonic Plates.
Plate tectonics is like a giant puzzle for Earth’s surface. The Earth’s outer shell called the lithosphere, is divided into big pieces called tectonic plates. These plates float on a layer of molten rock beneath them. Sometimes, these plates move apart, collide, or slide past each other. This movement causes earthquakes, mountains, and ocean formation.
Rethinking Seismic Activity on the Red Planet
For a long time, scientists believed that Mars didn’t have plates. Recently, they changed their mind after studying data collected from several missions to the Red Planet. Even so, they assumed those plates never moved. The recent activity on the planet’s surface is making them rethink what they thought they knew.
Not the First Quakes We’ve Found, but Definitely the Biggest
It’s impossible to see the ground shaking when looking at Mars through a telescope. So, to figure out if the planet was active, NASA decided to send a Mars lander called InSight, to set up on the planet’s surface.
How Did It All Start?
InSight has a seismic sensor covered by a dome to protect it from Mars’ harsh atmosphere. Within days of setting down on Mars’ surface, the lander sent back news that it was detecting small quakes. The first two clear signs of the ground shaking were two quakes, magnitudes 3.3 and 3.1
This latest quake is 4.7 on the Richter scale. While it’s nothing too huge by Earth standards, it’s a massive quake compared to the others we’ve recorded on Mars so far.
How Strong Was The Quake?
The Richter scale is a way to measure how strong an earthquake is. It gives a number, like 5 or 7, to show how much the ground shakes. Higher numbers mean bigger quakes. It helps people understand and compare earthquake power.
How Does It Compare to a Quake on Earth?
A 4.7 on the Richter scale would feel like a moderate shake. You might notice things inside your house moving, like dishes rattling or pictures swaying. It’s unlikely to cause major damage, but some people may feel it as a noticeable tremor, similar to a heavy truck passing by.
Historic Data on Earthquakes
On Earth, quakes can get really massive. One of the biggest quakes ever recorded was in San Francisco in 1906. It led to massive damage, collapsed buildings and a huge loss of life.
Recording Quakes on Earth And Mars
We record earthquakes using seismometers or seismographs. These are special instruments that detect ground shaking. When an earthquake happens, the seismometer records the movement and creates a wavy line on a graph called a seismogram. Scientists use these seismograms to figure out the earthquake’s size, location, and depth.
How Does InSight Work?
InSight used a specialized seismograph hidden underneath a dome to keep it protected from the wind and debris that’s on Mars’s surface. This helped it to ensure that the shaking it recorded came from the ground underneath it.
What Do These Quakes Mean For Understanding Mars?
Marsquakes are like echoes that bounce around inside Mars. By studying these quakes, scientists can learn about what’s beneath the planet’s surface.
Revealing Mars’ Secrets
Similar to how an X-ray shows our bones, marsquakes reveal Mars’ inner structure. This helps us understand its core, mantle, and crust and whether there’s liquid water or volcanic activity.
What About Living On Mars?
There has been a lot of talk about moving to Mars and setting up colonies there. While we have the technology to get to the planet, living there would still be a huge task.
Conditions That Do Not Support Life
The air isn’t something we can easily breathe. The soil doesn’t support our Earth-plants. However, the marsquakes shouldn’t be that much of a problem.
Learning More About Our Nearest Planetary Neighbor
Mars is a lot like Earth in some ways, but completely different to us in others. It’s one of the planets in the solar system that we’re fascinated by, because scientists think that it might have had water and even life in the past.
Knowing Mars, We Can Know Earth Better
Learning about Mars can tell us a lot about our planet. Not least of all, how to avoid ending up the same way Mars did. Right now, however, Mars is one of the frontiers of space science. The more we learn about it, the more we want to know. Can you imagine experiencing one of these marsquakes yourself?