Was that a Marsquake?

Here’s what the grumbling Red Planet sounds like

The InSight lander’s seismometer, shown here on Mars (protected by a dome), appears to have detected its first quake.

JPL-Caltech/NASA

Let’s get ready to rumble! NASA appears to have just captured the first recording of a quake on Mars. On April 6, the seismometer on the Mars InSight lander recorded a short series of howls, grumbles and pings. One of those sounds — that grumble — is raising suspicions. It’s the first recorded sound from the Red Planet’s interior, and scientists say it’s likely a long-sought quake.

NASA released the 40-second recording on April 23. It begins with a faint, eerie howling of the Martian wind. Next comes the low rumble of the possible Marsquake. A large ping toward the end is the spacecraft’s robotic arm moving.

InSight landed on Mars in November 2018. Its mission is to probe the Red Planet’s interior. InSight does this by tracking seismic waves rippling through the ground. Mars lacks Earth’s powerful quakes, which are caused by shifting tectonic plates. But as the planet cools and contracts, it has smaller quakes, crackles and rumbles.

Scientists hope that InSight’s data will reveal Mars’ internal structure. That includes the size and density of its crust, mantle and core. Some of these data also might detail how heat flows through the planet’s insides as well as uncover hints of water there.

This new recording isn’t long enough to provide much insight about the Martian interior, scientists say. But it shows Mars is seismically active. It also kicks off a brand-new field of research: Martian seismology.

This is what a marsquake sounds like. A seismometer on the planet picked up three different sounds. That initial howling is Martian wind. The low grumble that follows is a possible Marsquake. Finally, the ping is the spacecraft’s moving arm.
Imperial College London, IPGP, CNES, JPL-Caltech/NASA

Carolyn Gramling is the earth & climate writer. She has bachelor’s degrees in geology and European history and a Ph.D. in marine geochemistry from MIT and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

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