An unmanned NASA Mars probe has recorded faint rumbles beneath the Red Planet for the first time, in a groundbreaking mission. The US space agency’s InSight lander has been listening out for marsquakes since December, shortly after landing on Earth’s nearest neighbour. And in what scientists have described as an exciting milestone, the NASA InSight team says the lander measured and recorded a seismic signal at the beginning of the month.
InSight is using its cutting-edge Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) instrument.
This seismometer is the most sensitive ever designed and is capable of detecting vibration in the ground less than the thickness of an atom.
While other disturbances have been detected, previous signals are believed to have been false alarms caused by above ground phenomena, such as wind.
But the April 6 marsquake, however appears to have originated from within the Martian depths.
InSight’s efforts build upon work laid by the iconic Apollo Moon missions, which first offers tantalising clues to lunar seismic activity in the Moon’s interior.
The seismometer measurements will help improve our understanding of movements deep inside Mars.
NASA admit the first seismic event was too small to retrieve any concrete data on this front, but they expect it’s just the first of many.
Bruce Banerdt, InSight principal investigator, said: “InSight’s first readings carry on the science that began with NASA’s Apollo missions.
“We have been collecting background noise up until now, but this first event officially kicks off a new field: Martian seismology!”
Lori Glaze, Planetary Science Division director at NASA headquarters, added: “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.”
InSight also detected seismic signals on March 14, April 10 and April 11.
These were even smaller disturbances and detected by its more sensitive Very Broad Band sensors and scientists are still attempting to understand their cause.
But the larger April 6 event is the most promising by far.
Philippe Lognonne, SEIS team lead at the Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris, said: “We have been waiting months for a signal like this.
“It’s so exciting to finally have proof that Mars is still seismically active.
“We’re looking forward to sharing detailed results once we’ve had a chance to analyse them.”