Was that a Marsquake? | Science News for Students

Was that a Marsquake?

Here’s what the grumbling Red Planet sounds like
Jun 4, 2019 — 6:45 am EST
a photo of InSight lander’s seismometer on Mars

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


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

Power Words

(more about Power Words)

core     Something — usually round-shaped — in the center of an object. (in geology) Earth’s innermost layer.
crust     (in geology) A planet’s outermost surface, usually made from dense, solid rock.

density     The measure of how condensed some object is, found by dividing its mass by its volume.

lander     A special, small vehicle designed to ferry humans or scientific equipment between a spacecraft and the celestial body they will explore.

mantle     (in geology) The thick layer beneath a rocky planet’s outer crust.

Mars     The fourth planet from the sun, just one planet out from Earth. Like Earth, it has seasons and moisture. But its diameter is only about half as big as Earth’s.

NASA     Short for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Created in 1958, this U.S. agency has become a leader in space research and in stimulating public interest in space exploration. It was through NASA that the United States sent people into orbit and ultimately to the moon. It also has sent research craft to study planets and other celestial objects in our solar system.

planet     A celestial object that orbits a star, is big enough for gravity to have squashed it into a roundish ball and has cleared other objects out of the way in its orbital neighborhood.

Red Planet     A nickname for Mars.

seismic wave     A wave traveling through the ground produced by an earthquake or some other means.

seismology     The science concerned with earthquakes and related phenomena. People who work in this field are known as seismologists.

seismometer     (also known as a seismograph ) An instrument that detects and measures tremors (known as seismic waves) as they pass through Earth or some other hard surface.

tectonic     Surface activity on a large rocky body (such as a planet or moon) as liquid rock flows up to the surface where it solidifies, then slowly drifts atop molten rock, carrying surface features with it.

tectonic plates     The gigantic slabs — some spanning thousands of kilometers (or miles) across — that make up Earth’s outer layer.

wave     A disturbance or variation that travels through space and matter in a regular, oscillating fashion.


Website: NASA. NASA’s InSight lander captures audio of first likely ‘quake’ on Mars. Published online April 23, 2019.