On May 4, NASA reported that its InSight Mars lander detected the largest quake that was ever observed on another planet. The rover had first landed on Mars in November 2018 and has heard 1,313 quakes ever since, of which the largest previously recorded “marsquake” was detected in August 2021.
On Earth, basically, quakes are caused by shifts in tectonic plates, but Mars, however, does not have tectonic plates and its crust is a giant plate, so NASA notes that the ‘marsquakes’ are caused due to stresses that cause rock fracture in its crust.
What is InSight telling us about Mars?
Basically, InSight is not actually looking for life on Mars but is studying what Mars is made of, how much heat seeps out of it and how its material is layered.
This is important because Mars and Earth used to be similar-wet, warm and shrouded in thick atmospheres before taking different paths 3-4 billion years ago. While Earth continued to evolve, Mars had stopped changing.
Using InSight, scientists are trying to compare Mars and Earth and understand better on how planets starting materials make it more or less likely to support life.
InSight’s mandate is unique as there are other missions to Mars that are looking for life on the planet. Things boil down to the possibility that the atmosphere of Mars was once warm enough to allow water to flow through its surface, which means life could have existed there.
Things that make scientists curious about Mars are the existence of life on the planet because of the possible presence of liquid water on it, either in the past or preserved in its subsurface. Scientists are intrigued for the very reason because as NASA puts it “almost everywhere we find water on Earth, we find life”.