Technology & Science

NASA's InSight lander has detected 1st 'marsquake,' scientists say

NASA's robotic spacecraft InSight has detected and measured what scientists believe to be a "marsquake," marking the first time a likely seismological tremor has been recorded on another planet, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California reported on Tuesday.

'We've been waiting months for a signal like this': researcher

A life-size model of InSight, NASA's first robotic lander dedicated to studying the deep interior of Mars. Scientists announced Tuesday they believe it has detected a seismological tremor known as a marsquake. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

NASA's InSight lander has picked up a gentle rumble on Mars, believed to be the first "marsquake" ever detected.

InSight's quake monitor recorded and measured the faint signal April 6, and scientists announced the finding Tuesday.

While the rumble sounds like soft wind, scientists believe it came from within the red planet. Philippe Lognonne of the Paris Institute of Earth Physics, who's in charge of the experiment, said it's exciting to finally have proof that Mars is still seismically active.

Mars is not nearly as geologically active as Earth and, like our moon, lacks tectonic plates.

"We've been waiting months for a signal like this," Lognonne said in a statement.

InSight is NASA's first robotic lander dedicated to studying the deep interior of Mars.

The lead scientist responsible for the spacecraft, Bruce Banerdt of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., said the recent observation is a continuation of the scientific work begun by the Apollo moonwalkers nearly half a century ago. The astronauts left behind seismometers that measured thousands of moonquakes.

"We've been collecting background noise (on Mars) up until now, but this first event officially kicks off a new field: Martian seismology!" Banerdt said in a statement.

This photo made available by NASA Tuesday shows the InSight lander's domed wind and thermal shield, which covers a seismometer on the 110th Martian day, or sol, of the mission. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Associated Press)

Researchers are still analyzing the data, as well as three other even fainter seismic signals detected since mid-March. By analyzing marsquakes, scientists hope to learn more about how rocky planets formed.

No estimated Earth-magnitude equivalent was immediately given for the apparent marsquake.

Three other apparent seismic signals were picked up by InSight on March 14, April 10 and April 11 but were even smaller and more ambiguous in origin, leaving scientists less certain they were actual marsquakes.

The French seismometer was placed directly on the Martian surface in December, a few weeks after the spacecraft landed.

Other experiment not as successful

InSight's other main experiment isn't going as well.

The German-built drilling instrument — dubbed the mole — has managed to penetrate only about 50 centimetres into Mars, far short of its goal to measure the planet's internal temperature. Engineers are still trying to figure out why and how the device got stuck.

With files from Reuters