NASA’s Insight Lander experienced the distant sound of two large ‘Marscakes’ in March, which appeared from an area near the Mars equator known as the Cerberus fossa. The epicenter was reported below the Pacific Ocean floor, however; no tsunami alert was issued. The epicenter was reported below the Pacific Ocean floor, however; A couple of similarly strong marsupials rocked the same region in 2019.
The Cerberus fossae region is scarred by a series of massive, almost parallel fissures that formed when the planet’s crust was opened by a dramatic volcanic event. Volcano is the primary driver of earthquakes on Mars: The Red Planet does not have tectonic plates, which cause most of the earthquakes we feel on Earth.
On Mars, the Cerberus fossa area is one of the main centers of such activity, and due to its geographical instability it is an attractive area to study in the past and present.
Our ability to detect marsupials is very new. Geologists have been skeptical of their existence for decades, but Insight managed to capture its seismic interior structure (SEIS) until early 2019 without being able to capture anyone’s record. The Viking 2 lander observed an event that was a small earthquake in 1976, but could not rule out that wind or weather was the cause at the time. Insight, on the other hand, has found hard evidence of more than five hundred earthquake events in the last two years. Most of the markwaves detected by SEIS are small, but those derived from the cerpus fossa are even clearer and stronger.
Incredible, geologists Predictable Insight may have heard earthquakes from the Cerberus fossa region six years before the spacecraft landed on Mars. In 2012, a research team used images taken by the Harris camera of the Mars Renaissance Orbiter to explore the area, and found evidence of recent landslides and rocks that rolled down steep slopes at certain intervals. These rocks coincide with the aftermath of earthquakes at home, suggesting that a Marscake may have occurred recently. Insight’s new findings confirm that theory.
The Insight mission received a two-year extension in January, during which time the team hopes to create a detailed record of Tuesday’s seismic activity. To ensure the highest quality data, they have started using the lander’s robotic arm to bury the cable of the SEIS instrument. Doing so will reduce wind noise, vibrations and temperature fluctuations, all of which may interfere with seismic measurements and obscure possible markwake findings.
Insight is still struggling Dust covered solar panels, I.e. some of the lander’s equipment, like its weather station, must be operated temporarily. Insight still has enough energy to keep SEIS running for another month or two, after which it will have to go to sleep. This low power level will remain until a dust devil clears the panels or until Mars approaches the sun in its orbit, which should happen soon after July.
Meanwhile, researchers are excited about the findings coming from the Cerberus fossa, and believe that strong earthquakes have not yet come. If Insight hears a ‘Big One’, the vibrations may go deep enough to interact with the planet’s mantle and its center. Listening to such an event will teach us more about the internal structure of the planet – which we currently know very little about.