NASA’s InSight lander has finally detected 3 big Mars quakes, including one that lasted nearly 90 minutes

NASA’s InSight lander has finally detected Mars quakes with magnitudes above 4.

One quake lasted nearly 90 minutes and was five times more energetic than the previous record-holder.

Big quakes help NASA scientists peer into Mars’ core to learn how habitable planets evolve.

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NASA’s Insight lander was sitting silently in the empty dust plains of Mars on Saturday, as it had for the past 1,000 Martian days, when the ground began to rumble.

The shaking continued for nearly an hour and a half.

The robot beamed the data from its seismometer back to Earth, and NASA scientists realized they had what they’d been waiting for: a big quake. Insight had recorded a magnitude 4.2 Mars quake – the kind NASA scientists had been wanting to observe since Insight touched down on the red planet in November 2018.

Two other big ones recently rolled through, too: On August 25, the lander felt two quakes of magnitudes 4.2 and 4.1.

Before these, the biggest quake the lander had felt was a 3.7 in 2019.

insight lander seismometer mars
The InSight’s lander seismometer, as photographed by the lander’s camera on September 23, 2020. NASA/JPL-Caltech
“It looks like there are fewer large quakes on Mars, relative to the number of small quakes, than we would expect. It’s a little bit puzzling,” Bruce Banerdt, the principal investigator for InSight, told Insider in April.

But the Saturday quake was five times more energetic than the 3.7-magnitude rumble.

These big quakes offer a missing piece of the Martian puzzle. Scientists can use their seismic waves to learn about the makeup of Mars’ core, in the same way the waves of an X-ray or CAT scan are used in the body. Getting more detailed views into Mars’ insides can yield clues about how the planet was born and how it has evolved over time. That knowledge could be crucial in astronomers’ efforts to find other worlds that might host life.
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“By looking at Mars’ core and looking at Mars’ crust, and understanding that these haven’t changed very much in the last 4.5 billion years, we can get a glimpse into what the Earth might have looked like very early on,” Banerdt said in April. “Mars is helping us to understand just how rocky planets form and how they evolve in general.”

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