Uncovering the mystery of the most powerful earthquake ever on Mars

Researchers from the University of Oxford, in collaboration with international space agencies, have found that the largest Martian earthquake ever recorded, S1222a, was caused by tectonic forces, not a meteorite impact, suggesting that Mars may be more seismically active than previously thought. (Artist’s concept of the effects of a Mars earthquake.)

Led global collaboration Oxford university It has been determined that it is the largest seismic event ever MarsThe incident, known as S1222a, was not caused by a meteorite impact. Instead, the event that was recorded by NASAIt is believed that InSight’s InSight lander crashed for more than six hours was the result of massive tectonic forces within the Martian crust. This discovery suggests that Mars is more seismically active than previously thought, which could have implications for future habitation efforts on the planet. The results were published October 17 in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

Marsquake event wallpaper

The quake, which measured 4.7 and caused vibrations to resonate across the planet for at least six hours, was recorded by NASA’s InSight lander on Wednesday, May 4, 2022. Because its seismic signals were similar to previous earthquakes known to have occurred. Because of the impact of meteorites, the team believed that this event (dubbed “S1222a”) may have been caused by an impact as well, and launched an international search for a new crater.

InSight Mars lander

Artist’s illustration of the InSight Mars lander. InSight, short for interior exploration using seismic investigations, geodesy and thermal transport, is designed to give the Red Planet its first comprehensive examination since its formation 4.5 billion years ago. Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Although Mars is smaller than Earth, it has a similar surface area because it has no oceans. In order to survey this huge area of ​​​​Earth – 144 million km2 – Study leader Dr. Benjamin Fernando from the Department of Physics at the University of Oxford sought contributions from European Space AgencyThe Chinese National Space Agency, the Indian Space Research Organization, and the UAE Space Agency. This is believed to be the first time that all missions in orbit around Mars have collaborated on a single project.

Look for evidence of impact

During its time on Mars, InSight (co-designed by the University of Oxford) recorded at least 8 Martian events caused by meteorite impacts. The two largest of these craters are about 150 meters in diameter. If the S1222a event formed as a result of an impact, the crater would be expected to be at least 300 meters in diameter. Each group examined data from their satellites orbiting Mars to look for a new crater, or other sign of an impact (for example, the appearance of a dust cloud in the hours after the quake).

After several months of searching, the team announced that no new crater had been found. They concluded that the event was due to the release of enormous tectonic forces within the interior of Mars. This suggests that the planet is more seismically active than previously thought.

“This project represents a huge international effort to help solve the mystery of S1222a, and I am extremely grateful to all the missions that have contributed. “I hope this project will serve as a model for fruitful international cooperation in deep space.”

Dr.. Benjamin Fernando, Department of Physics, University of Oxford.

Dr Fernando said: “We still believe that Mars does not have any active tectonic plates today, so this event was likely caused by the release of pressure within the Martian crust. These pressures are the result of billions of years of evolution, including the cooling and contraction of various parts of The planet at different rates. We still don’t fully understand why some parts of the planet experience higher pressures than others, but results like these help us investigate further. One day, this information may help us understand where it’s safe to live on Mars and where You may want to avoid it!

Expert opinions about the discovery

“This experiment shows how important it is to maintain a variety of instruments on Mars, and we are very pleased to have played this experiment,” said Dr. Daniela Tersch, science coordinator for the high-resolution stereo camera aboard ESA’s Mars Express spacecraft. Our role is to complement the multi-instrumental and international approach of this study.

NASA Mars Insight

This illustration shows NASA’s Mars InSight lander on the surface of Mars. Credit: NASA

From China, Dr. Jianjun Liu (National Astronomical Observatories, Chinese Academy of Sciences) added: “We are willing to cooperate with scientists around the world to share and apply this scientific data to gain more knowledge about Mars, and we are proud to present the data from existing color imagers.” on Tianwen-1 to contribute to this effort.

Dr. Dimitra Atre, Mars Group Leader New york university Abu Dhabi, contributing data to the UAE’s Hope spacecraft, said: “This has been a great opportunity for me to collaborate with the InSight team, as well as with personnel from other major missions dedicated to studying Mars. This is truly the golden age of Mars exploration!”

Concluding remarks and future directions

S1222a was one of the last events recorded by InSight before declaring the end of its mission in December 2022. The team is now moving forward by applying knowledge from this study to future work, including upcoming missions to the Moon and Titan’s moon. Saturn.

Reference: “The Tectonic Origin of the Largest Martian Earthquake Observed by InSight” by Benjamin Fernando, Ingrid J. Dubar, Constantinos Charalambous, Peter M. Grindrod, Alexander Stott, Abdullah Al-Ateeqi, Dimitra Atre, Savas Ceylan, John Clinton, Matthew Fillingim, Ernest Hopper, Johnathon R. Hill, Taichi Kawamura, Jianjun Liu, Antoine Lucas, Ralph Lorenz, Logindra Ojha, Clement Perrin, Sylvain Becchio, Simon Stehler, Daniela Thiersch, Colin Wilson, Natalia Wojcica, Domenico Giardini, Philip Lognoni, and W. Bruce. Banerdt, October 17, 2023, Geophysical Research Letters.
doi: 10.1029/2023GL103619

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