Earth-shaking Yes, but Mars-shaking?

Mars | Image by

Some people, particularly those in California, are used to having the ground shake because of earthquake activity. There is a device that can detect and measure the strength of earthquakes. It is called a seismometer. I have mentioned in past articles that I went to high school in Rochester, New York. McQuaid Jesuit High School provided then and still does provide a well-rounded education to prepare young men for college. In addition to the high quality education the school has some unique experiences for its students.

Seismograph Tracing
McQuaid Jesuit High School’s Seismograph Tracing Of Anchorage Alaska Earthquake 11/30/18 | Image by WHAM-TV Rochester, NY

I am referring to a piece of scientific equipment that was first brought into the school back in the late 1950s. It is a seismograph or seismometer. Yes, a high school had one and students who learned how to use it. Let’s start off with a definition from “Seismograph, an instrument that makes a record of seismic waves caused by an earthquake, explosion, or other Earth-shaking phenomenon.  Seismographs are equipped with electromagnetic sensors that translate ground motions into electrical changes which are processed and recorded by the instruments’ analog or digital circuits. The terms seismograph and seismometer are often used interchangeably; however, whereas both devices may detect and measure seismic waves, only a seismograph possesses the capacity to record the phenomena. A record produced by a seismograph on a display screen or paper printout is called a seismogram.”

Jet Propulsion Laboratoty (JPL) | Photo by

The idea that sparked this particular column came from a release from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory at California Institute of Technology. The title “NASA’s InSight Detects First Likely ‘Quake’ On Mars.”

InSight On Mars
First Picture From InSight On Mars | Photo from nasa/jpl-caltech

The Mars InSight lander has was launched on May 5, 2018 been on Mars since its landing on November 26, 2018 at Elysium Planitia, but until it’s 128th sol, or Martian day no rumbles from the ground were noticed. On that day though InSight’s Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) instrument recorded a trembling. “This is the first recorded trembling that appears to have come from inside the planet, as opposed to being caused by voices above the surface, such as wind. Scientists are still examining the data to determine the exact cause of the signal.” NASA has provided an audio clip and video representation of that unique sound followed by the sound of its robotic arm moving.

It measured three sounds which are the Martian wind, the seismic event, and InSight’s robotic arm as it moves to take a picture. Quoting from the release again “InSight’s first readings carry on the science that began with NASA’s Apollo missions” again InSight Principal Investigator Bruce Banerdt of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. “We’ve been collecting background noise up until now, but this first event officially kicks off a new field: Martian Seismology! “The Martian sol 128 event is exciting because its size and longer duration fit the profile of moonquakes detected on the lunar surface during the Apollo missions,” said Lori Glaze, Planetary Science Division director at NASA headquarters.

InSight Seismometer
InSight Seismometer | Photo by NASA-JPL-Caltech

What makes studying Marsquakes important is that, unlike our earthquakes which are caused by the movement of tectonic plates, Marsquakes are caused by a continual process of cooling and contraction that creates stress. That stress builds up and breaks the crust creating the quakes.

Mars | Image by

The more we can learn about how things work on Mars we will have a better chance to understand what events changed the planet into what it is today. That information could help us better understand the prognosis for the health of planet Earth.

Let me know what you would like me to talk about or explain. You can email me at: [email protected].

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