/ Modified apr 29, 2019 4:40 p.m.

NASA Announces First Detection of ‘Marsquake’

While scientists had picked up vibrations before, the recent detection was the first clearly coming from the planet.

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insight mars vl VIEW LARGER InSight's domed Wind and Thermal Shield covers its seismometer. The image was taken on the 110th Martian day, or sol, of the mission. The seismometer is called Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure, or SEIS.
NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA has announced the first clear detection of a quake on Mars. The red planet joins Earth and the moon as one of only three bodies where humans have measured seismic activity.

Scientists have previously recorded a handful of ambiguous vibrations on Mars, but the April 6 detection by NASA's InSight lander was the first to clearly originate from inside the planet.

InSight, which stands for "Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport mission," studies Mars's deep interior. It landed on the planet last November.

Seismic activity need not come from plate tectonics; on the moon, for example, it arises from temperature shifts and gravitational stresses.

InSight detects such vibrations using three exceptionally sensitive seismometers that are protected from wind and temperature by a dome.

Seismologist Edward Garnero of Arizona State University said InSight's seismometer transforms what we can learn about Mars.

"You could almost think of it like the first time there was a telescope, and it affords you a vision far beyond the little white dots that you see with the naked eye," he said.

Scientists hope to use vibrations caused by quakes, meteorite strikes and other phenomena to map Mars's structure and learn more about how rocky planets form.

Arizona Science Desk
This story is from the Arizona Science Desk, a collaborative of the state's public radio stations, including NPR 89.1. Read more from the Arizona Science Desk.
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