Have you ever thought that there would be gigantic earthquakes like calamities on Mars? What would be the cause of such marsquakes if they occurred on the planet? According to the reports sent by NASA’s Insight lander, the first ever seismic activity on Mars was detected in September 2021. In May 2022, the space rover detected the largest seismic waves on the planet as a marsquake of magnitude 4.7 hit the rover. It was found out that this event was caused due to a large meteorite hitting the surface of the planet like a nuclear bomb.
With all this data, it was concluded that the surface of Mars is not stagnant and prone to earthquakes just like the Earth suffers with earthquakes. But we are here to learn about what causes the ‘Marsquake’ and how is the seismic activity of the planet.
Marsquake on the Red Planet
The earthquakes that we feel on this planet are caused due to the constant drifting of the tectonic plates. Whenever the tectonic plates clash against one another or undergo some other trembling, earthquakes occur on the planet. It is usually seen that the epicenter of an earthquake lies directly above the fault lines of tectonic plates.
But enough about the Earth, does a similar phenomenon happen at Mars too?
According to the data collected about the planet, there seems to be close to no tectonic activity on the planet. This is because of the absence of any tectonic plates that could show motion and drift against one another.
Source / Earthquake on Mars
But then what was the cause of such a monster quake on Mars? Well, the insight lander has been able to find out several causes of Marsquakes within its time on the planet. Before the rover was shut down, a lot of important details were collected by NASA regarding the seismic activity on the red planet.
You must have heard that Mars lies beyond the asteroid belt in space. Well, the asteroids are a problem not just for the Earth but for Mars as well. The gigantic marsquake recorded by the Insight lander in May 2022 was a result of a huge meteorite impact on the surface of the planet. This suggested one of the causes of the monster quake on Mars. Meteorite activities on the planet have caused several trembles over the years and resulted in the formation of many craters. Similarly, the magma movement under the surface of the planet creates a pressure underneath.
At times, this pressure also causes the surface of Mars to shake and thus cause quakes on Mars. Cracking of the surface caused by the contraction may also be one of the reasons. You might have heard that cooling down a surface brings cracks on it at times. Well, the similar scenario happens on Mars as the hotter regions beneath the crust cool down.
Seismic Activity of Mars
NASA published a report that Insight lander, in its four years of life on Mars, sent out details of over thousand Marsquake- like activities on the planet. This has portrayed a significant map of the seismic activity on the red planet.
For years, it was believed that the inner crust of the red planet is not as volcanically active as that of Earth. But the occurrence of a marsquake without any tectonic movement portrays that the magma movement under the surface of the planet is highly spontaneous.
Source / Report on Seismic activity of Mars detected by NASA’s Insight Lander
Anna Mittelholz, one of the researchers at Harvard University, has studied the seismic activity report sent by the Insight lander. The concentration of mars earthquakes in a singular region rather than all over the planet has fascinated scientists. When Anna analyzed the data sent by the rover on Mars, it was found out that a Marsquake is not exactly like an earthquake.
There is a difference in the frequency of the trembling caused. If you have ever felt an earthquake, you must have felt trembles at a considerable frequency. But the frequency of the Marsquake is either too high or low as compared to the earthquakes.
Magma Movement On Red Planet
If not tectonic plates clashing against one another, then what is the cause of high frequency trembles on the surface of the red planet? To answer your query, you must imagine a piece of glass which is heated until it glows red. Now, if you suddenly cool it down, you might see cracks forming at the corner of the glass. Similar phenomenon occurs on the surface of Mars. The high frequency marsquake is caused due to cooling and shrinking of the surface of the planet at places. But the real question lies on the concentration of marquakes in one region of the planet.
The data sent by NASA’s Insight lander suggested that most of the time, a marsquake occurred in the Cerberus Fossae region of the planet. Several low frequency trembles could be felt within less intervals of time in this region. Anna Mittelholz also analyzed this data and came to a conclusion that magma movement tens of kilometres beneath the surface of the red planet are causing these low frequency trembles. Now this data suggested similarities between the seismic activity on planet Earth and the red planet as well. Marsquake is still much of a mystery to the scientist community but NASA’s Insight lander has been able to provide a lot of clarity related to the magma movement on the planet.
Quake on mars is a rather interesting topic for the global astrophysicist community. Researchers have been collecting thermal activity data, the infrared data and also the data sent by different spacecraft on the red planet. This is done to form a highly qualitative and quantitative report related to the seismic activity on the red planet. You might have gotten familiar with the occurrence of monster quakes on mars and how a marsquake occurs.
Ongoing research will be able to reveal much more data as the scientists get more insight on marsquakes. For now, you can understand that a marsquake is similar to an earthquake in terms of trembling of the surface but the reasons behind it are somewhat different.
To understand more about the seismic activity of the red planet and the occurrence of a marsquake, take a look at this video.