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Eerie sounds from Mars reveal 1st evidence of this phenomenon on another planet

By Brian Lada, AccuWeather meteorologist and staff writer
April 24, 2019, 2:30:42 PM EDT


A groundbreaking otherworldly recording may reveal clues into the secrets of one of our closest cosmic neighbors.

For the first time ever, tremors have been detected on another planet.

On April 6, NASA’s Mars InSight lander recorded a faint seismic signal in what is being called a “marsquake.” On Tuesday, NASA released audio of the quake that was preceded by sounds of the howling Martian wind.

“The Martian Sol 128 event is exciting because its size and longer duration fit the profile of moonquakes detected on the lunar surface during the Apollo missions,” said Lori Glaze, Planetary Science Division director at NASA Headquarters.

“We’ve been collecting background noise up until now, but this first event officially kicks off a new field: Martian seismology,” said InSight Principal Investigator Bruce Banerdt of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.

The seismic activity was observed by InSight’s Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) instrument to provide a glimpse into the planet’s internal activity.

“We’ve been waiting months for a signal like this,” said Philippe Lognonné, SEIS team lead at the Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris (IPGP) in France. “It's so exciting to finally have proof that Mars is still seismically active. We're looking forward to sharing detailed results once we've had a chance to analyze them.”

“Detecting these tiny quakes required a huge feat of engineering. On Earth, high-quality seismometers often are sealed in underground vaults to isolate them from changes in temperature and weather,” NASA stated in a statement.

Since InSight is unable to bury a seismometer like humans do on Earth, the lander used its robotic arm to place a seismometer on the surface of Mars and covered it with a protective Wind and Thermal Shield to protect it from the extreme weather on the Red Planet.

mars insight marsquake

NASA's InSight lander deployed its Wind and Thermal Shield on Feb. 2 (Sol 66). The shield covers InSight's seismometer, which was set down onto the Martian surface on Dec. 19, 2018. (Image/NASA/JPL-Caltech)


Although this is the first seismic activity detected on another planet, it is not the first time that tremors have been observed in our solar system outside of Earth.

During NASA’s Apollo program in the late 1960s and 1970s, astronauts that landed on the moon left behind seismometers to help scientists conduct further research. These sensors measured thousands of ‘moonquakes,’ helping scientists better understand the interior or the moon and how it came to be.

These seismometers are no longer active, but new instruments may be installed on the lunar surface when NASA sends astronauts back to the moon in the 2020s.

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Marsquakes and moonquakes have a different origin than tremors on Earth. Earthquakes are caused by the movement of tectonic plates, but neither Mars nor the moon have tectonic plates. Instead, these otherworldly quakes are believed to be triggered by stress that builds up internally and eventually is released as energy near the crust.

Despite being different than earthquakes, they can still help to reveal the secrets that lie beneath the planet’s surface.

“The seismometer may even be able to tell us if there's liquid water, or plumes of active volcanoes underneath the Martian surface,” NASA said.

Scientists believe that they may have detected additional marsquakes in recent weeks, but the data is still being evaluated to determine the precise cause of the signals detected by the SEIS.

“We are delighted about this first achievement and are eager to make many similar measurements with SEIS in the years to come,” said Charles Yana, SEIS mission operations manager at CNES.

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