Apr 6, 2021 - Science

NASA's InSight lander feels Mars quake beneath it

A view of InSight's instruments on Mars bathed in yellow/red light.

InSight on Mars. Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA's InSight lander on Mars felt two relatively large quakes shake the Red Planet last month.

Why it matters: InSight uses these shakes on Mars — caused by volcanic activity — to learn more about the interior of the planet.

What they found: The two quakes, which were felt on March 7 and March 18, were magnitudes 3.3 and 3.1.

  • "It’s wonderful to once again observe marsquakes after a long period of recording wind noise," John Clinton, an InSight scientist, said in a statement. "One Martian year on, we are now much faster at characterizing seismic activity on the Red Planet."
  • The quakes seemed to come from a region called Cerberus Fossae, the same area where two other strong shakes were felt earlier in the mission.
  • The waves from all four of those relatively strong quakes traveled like quakes do on Earth — through the planet. Other shakes on Mars have been more like those seen on the Moon, which are more "scattered," according to NASA.

What's next: NASA extended InSight's mission on Mars by two years, to at least December 2022.

  • The lander will continue to listen for shakes on the planet, but the spacecraft's solar panels are covered in dust and its power is low, according to NASA.
  • The agency expects power levels to bounce back once the planet comes back toward the Sun, after July, but for now, mission managers are going to turn instruments off as needed to allow the lander to hibernate.
  • "The team hopes to keep the seismometer on for another month or two before it has to be temporarily turned off," NASA said in the statement.
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