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A “massive earthquake” on Mars – the reason surprises researchers

A “massive earthquake” on Mars – the reason surprises researchers

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The red planet Mars. (Avatar) © imago/LiaKoltyrina

A violent earthquake on Mars has long puzzled researchers. The explanation suggests that Mars may be different than previously thought.

OXFORD – When NASA’s InSight probe lands on Mars in May 2022 4.7 magnitude earthquakeThere was quick talk of a “monster earthquake.” While earthquakes of this size occur frequently on Earth, they are very rare on Mars. And there’s a reason for that: On the Red Planet – unlike Earth – there are no tectonic plates that move and cause the Earth to shake. That’s why experts initially suspected that a meteorite impact on Mars had caused the Earth to shake violently.

But it seems that this is not the case. An international research team has now discovered the cause of the large Mars earthquake called S1222a, and the solution has come as a big surprise. The team concluded that the earthquake was caused by the release of enormous tectonic forces inside Mars. And the results were In the specialized magazine Geophysical Research Letters published It suggests that the Red Planet is more seismically active than previously thought.

‘Massive earthquake’ on Mars: Was tectonics the cause?

First, researchers looked for a new impact crater on Mars. To search 144 square kilometers of land, study leader Benjamin Fernando (University of Oxford) contacted the European Space Agency (ESA), the Chinese Space Agency (CNSA), the Indian Space Agency ISRO, and the United Arab Emirates Space Agency. All of these organizations have something in common: they control the space probes that orbit Mars, and therefore have the best overview.

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This material allowed the research group to search for a new crater or other signs of the impact. But after several months of searching, no crater was found – and from it the team concluded that the massive Mars earthquake must have originated inside the planet.

Mars lander
NASA’s InSight Mars lander in action. (Artist’s impression) © NASA/JPL

Mars was not supposed to have active tectonic plates

“We still assume that there are no active tectonic plates on Mars, so this event was likely caused by the release of tensions within the Martian crust,” explains Fernando, adding: “These tensions are the result of billions of years of evolution, including cooling and contraction.” Different parts of the planet at different rates.

Why some parts of Mars experience more stress than others is a mystery to researchers. “But results like this help us continue our research,” Fernando emphasizes. “One day, this information could help us understand where people can live safely on Mars and what areas should be avoided.”

All Mars spacecraft participated in the study

According to the information in one press release This study is the first research work that includes all orbiters orbiting Mars. Study leader Fernando explains: “This project represents a major international effort to solve the mystery of S1222a, and I am very grateful to all the missions that have contributed to it. I hope that this project will serve as a model for fruitful international cooperation in deep space.”

Daniela Tersch, who looks after the high-resolution stereo camera on board ESA’s Mars Express space probe, is happy: “This experiment shows how important it is to maintain a variety of instruments on Mars, and we are very pleased.” We contributed to the completion of the multi-instrument approach “This is truly the golden age of Mars exploration,” adds Dimitra Atri, who is coordinating data from the Arab spacecraft Hope.

The “monster quake” S1222a was one of the last Mars earthquakes recorded by NASA’s InSight probe before the team’s involvement. The spacecraft surrendered in December 2022. The probe can no longer produce enough power from its dusty solar panels, but it has already provided researchers with a lot of valuable data from Mars, which is still being evaluated today. (unpaid bill)

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