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S1222a, the most powerful earthquake ever recorded on Mars!

As the activity of the InSight probe on Mars draws to a close, the data recorded over the last few months continues to provide new insights into the dynamics and structure of the Red Planet. In a study published this December 14th in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, the international SEIS seismometer team unveils the detailed analysis of the recording of the strongest earthquake detected by the instrument, an exceptional signal.

S1222a, the most powerful earthquake ever recorded on Mars!

Polarized signals and location (blue ellipse) of event S1222a (© GRL - AGU)

Publication date: 17/12/2022

Observatories, Press, Research

Related observatories : InSight Observatory

On the night of May 4th this year, or Sol 1222 on Mars, the seismometer on NASA’s InSight Mars lander detected an earthquake on the Red Planet, which reverberated for several hours.

This Martian earthquake was at least five times more powerful than the last largest tremor recorded on the planet, according to new research published on 14 December in Geophysical Research Letters, an AGU journal, which will be publishing a collection of articles on this earthquake (two articles published on 14 December in Geophysical Research Letters, and two others soon to be published, to which IPGP scientists also contributed).

Polarized signals and location (blue ellipse) of event S1222a (© GRL - AGU)

“This is undoubtedly the largest Mars quake we have detected,” said Taichi Kawamura, lead author and planetary seismologist at the Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris and Université Paris Cité. Together with seismologist John Clinton from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, T. Kawamura is co-director of the Marsquake Service (MQS), an international team that monitors and evaluates the seismological data recorded by NASA’s InSight Mars probe.

The biggest Martian earthquake previously recorded, in August 2021 (Sol 976 on Mars), was of magnitude 4.2, while the one in May had a magnitude of 4.7 (the magnitudes of Martian earthquakes are comparable to those of earthquakes on Earth).

“We were able to observe long-period energy from this event that had never been observed on Mars before, which we can identify as Love waves and multi-orbit Rayleigh waves, perhaps explaining why this makes the amplitude larger by a factor of 5”, explains J. Clinton.

The earthquake waves lasted between four and five hours, much longer than most previous Mars quakes, which had lasted only one or two hours at most.

The study also notes that the epicentre was close to, but outside, the Cerberus Fossae region, which happens to be the most seismically active region on the Red Planet. The epicentre did not appear to be obviously linked to any known geological features, although a deep epicentre could be linked to hidden features lower down in the crust.

Mars tremors are often divided into two different types: high-frequency tremors, characterised by rapid but shorter vibrations, and low-frequency tremors, when the surface moves more slowly but with greater amplitude. This latter event is unique in that it appears to have characteristics of both high and low frequency earthquakes. Further research may reveal that the low-frequency and high-frequency earthquakes recorded previously are just two aspects of the same thing,” proposes T. Kawamura.

These initial studies have been carried out by analysing the data from this major earthquake, published by the Mars SEIS data service, hosted by the Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris data centre, and relayed to the NASA and IRIS data centres; while the Insight probe is nearing its operational end, due to the dust that has gradually covered its solar panels and reduced its power in the four years since it landed in November 2018.

“For all the members of the InSight National Observing Service team, the detection of this earthquake by our very broadband seismometer, almost at the end of the mission, was an extraordinary moment” adds T. Kawamura. On the basis of the data collected during this earthquake, “I would say that this mission has been an extraordinary success”, he concludes.

Find out more :  press release on the AGU website

Ref: Kawamura T, Clinton J., Zenhäusern G., Ceylan S., Horleston A., Dahmen N., Duran C., Kim D., Plasman M., Stähler S., Euchner F.,Charalambous, C., Giardini D., Davis P., Sainton G.,Lognonné, P., Panning M.,Banerdt W.B. (2022), S1222a – the largest Marsquake detected by InSight, Geophys. Res. Let. doi: 10.1029/2022GL101543

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