The unprecedented earthquake on Mars was not caused by what you think


A powerful earthquake occurred in May 2022 Mars.

The earthquake, of magnitude 4.7, would rattle dishes and creak the wooden frames of a building on Earth, but it would not be regionally catastrophic. However, on Mars, a much geologically calmer world, such an event is still considered to monster earthquakeat the limit of what planetary scientists would expect to record in the arid, desert world.

Since the tremor, scientists have been studying the event, recorded by NASA. InSight lander, its geological probe now retired. Some researchers hypothesized that such a large earthquake was due to a meteorite hitting Mars, since the planet is covered in meteorite impacts. However, new research, published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Geophysical research lettersconcludes that the source of the great earthquake came from the depths of the planet.

Unlike LandMars does not have erupting volcanoes or any molten rock brewing near the surface. It is unlikely to have colossal structural or tectonic plates gradually moving over circulating hot rocks, which on Earth create mountain chains and trigger earthquakes.

However, Mars may still have significant activity deep beneath the surface, as the planet’s ancient rocky crust continues to evolve.

“We still think that Mars has no active plate tectonics today, so this event was likely caused by the release of stress within Mars’ crust. These stresses are the result of billions of years of evolution, including the cooling and contraction of different parts of the planet at different rates,” Ben Fernando, who researches planetary geophysics at the University of Oxford and led the new study, said in a statement.

A spectrogram of the InSight lander's recording of a large earthquake (shown at left) in May 2022.

A spectrogram of the InSight lander’s recording of a large earthquake (shown at left) in May 2022.
Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / ETH Zurich

Fernando and the research team used satellite images to track the surface of mars. They searched for a possible culprit meteorite that could have triggered such a powerful Martian shake, and received image contributions from companies such as the European Space Agency, the Chinese National Space Agency and the Indian Space Research Organization. They scanned the landscape for new impacts or dust clouds just after May 4, 2022.

None were found.

“We are willing to collaborate with scientists around the world to share and apply this scientific data to gain more knowledge about Mars, and we are proud to have provided data from Tianwen-1’s color cameras to contribute to this effort,” said Jianjun. Liu. the director of the National Astronomical Observatories of the Chinese Academy of Sciences said in a statement.

NASA's InSight seismometer covered in dust on the surface of Mars.

NASA’s InSight seismometer covered in dust on the surface of Mars.
Credit: InSight seismometer

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POTThe InSight lander ran out of power in 2022, recorded more than 1,300 marsquakes. In future missions, planetary scientists want to continue probing the interior of Mars and record earthquakes, improving our understanding of what happens beneath the surface of the Red Planet. There might even be places prone to relatively large earthquakes.

“We still don’t fully understand why some parts of the planet seem to have higher stresses than others, but results like these help us investigate further,” Fernando said. “Someday, this information may help us understand where it would be safe for humans to live on Mars and where it would be best to avoid it.”

This story has been updated with more information about marsquakes.

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