Marsquake: Graph with many bright points on bottom and other vertical lines.

EarthSky | The new 5.0 earthquake is the largest ever detected

Spectrogram of the InSight Mars lander, showing the largest March quake detected so far, of magnitude 5.0, detected earlier this month. Picture via Nasa/ JPL-Caltech/ ETH Zurich.

Earthquakes are common on our planet, and they can be large, with devastating consequences. The next planet outside the sun, Mars, also has earthquakes, which we’ve seen as milder so far. from NASA Insight the lander was March tremor record since touching down on Mars in 2018. Earthquakes so far have been mild, up to magnitude 4.2. But on May 4, 2022 – the 1,222nd floor (Martian day) of the InSight mission – the lander felt its the biggest earthquake to date, at a record magnitude of 5.0. It’s not just the biggest earthquake. It is the largest earthquake detected on another planet so far.

Earthquake magnitude scale.
Earthquake magnitude scale, via Michigan Technology.


On Earth, magnitude 5.0 is a medium-sized earthquake. On Mars, however, it is close to what scientists think is the upper limit of seismic strength.

Mission scientists refer to this new earthquake as “the big one”. The biggest so far, anyway. Bruce BanerdtInSight Principal Investigator at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) declared:

Since we installed our seismometer in December 2018, we have been waiting for “the big one”. This earthquake is sure to provide a view of the planet like no other. Scientists will analyze this data to learn new things about Mars in the years to come.

Like NASA tweeted May 9:

At present, scientists are still trying to determine the exact location of the earthquake and how it happened. Mars has no activity tectonic plates like Earth does, but evidence has grown in recent years that the planet is still geologically active below the surface. Indeed, the last great earthquake proves that Mars continues to “rock and roll” today.

Chart with sudden high zigzag lines that come down to level over time.
Seismogram of the magnitude 5.0 earthquake detected by Insight on May 4, 2022. Image via Nasa/ JPL-Caltech.

The new earthquake is the latest in a long series

Indeed, InSight has so far recorded no less than 1,313 earthquakes on Mars. Previously, the largest earthquake detected was magnitude 4.2 on August 25, 2021.

Scientists suspected Mars was still rumbling a little below the surface, but InSight is the first mission to confirm this.

How many times will InSight feel the Martian subsoil shaking?

A dusty problem

InSight’s mission has been incredibly successful overall, since landing in Elysium Planitia on November 26, 2018. (Besides the frustrating issues with sound “Mole” heat probe instrument.) Currently, however, it faces new challenges. There’s a lot more dust in the Martian air right now, which is affecting the lander’s solar panels. In fact, on May 7, the power level of the solar panels fell below the limit where safe mode is enabled. In safe mode, only the most necessary functions of the mobile still work. As with safe mode on other spacecraft, this helps protect the lander until power levels increase again. It’s a bit like a temporary hibernation.

InSight also entered, then later exited, safe mode last January after a dust storm kicked up large amounts of dust. Hopefully, InSight will soon resume normal operations this time too!

Smiling man standing outdoors with sharp, snowy mountains in the background.
Bruce Banerdt at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is the principal investigator of the InSight mission. Picture via Nasa/ JPL.
Complicated machine with two large umbrella-shaped solar panels, top view.
See bigger. | This “selfie” taken by Insight shows dust on the solar panels. Recently, a lot more dust has accumulated, forcing the lander to go into safe mode. This image is a combination of 14 images taken between March 15 and April 11, 2019. Image via Nasa/ JPL-Caltech.

NASA will provide a media conference call update on the status of InSight on Tuesday, May 17, 2022 at 2:00 p.m. EDT (11:00 a.m. PDT).

Mission objectives

The InSight mission has two main objectives. The first is to understand the formation and evolution of terrestrial planets by studying the structure and interior processes of Mars. The other main objective is to determine the current level of tectonic activity and the rate of impact of meteorites on Mars. InSight has already provided unprecedented insights preview in the geological history of Mars and its potential habitability.

Conclusion: NASA’s InSight lander has just detected the biggest earthquake of its mission to date. Insight felt “the big one”, a record magnitude of 5.0, on May 4, 2022.

Learn more about the InSight mission


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