Mars isn’t dead.
NASA announced on Thursday that its InSight lander, which probes for geological activity on Mars, recently recorded “two strong, clear quakes” in the same region where the lander previously observed two sizeable quakes in 2019. This points to a seismically active area on Mars — a place that looks bone-dry and devoid of life on its surface, but might be active below ground.
“The magnitude 3.3 and 3.1 temblors originated in a region called Cerberus Fossae, further supporting the idea that this location is seismically active,” wrote NASA. The new quakes happened on March 7 and March 18.
(These are considered relatively light quakes on Earth, but they’re definitely rumbles people can feel, depending on how close they are and how deep the quake strikes.)
Cerberus Fossae is an area on Mars with steep-sided troughs cutting through a landscape of ancient volcanic plains. There’s evidence of landslides here, with boulders perhaps dislodged by recurring shaking.
The InSight lander has recorded over 500 quakes so far (it landed in Nov. 2018), suggesting there may indeed be some volcanically active places in the Martian underground, perhaps hot molten rock (magma) moving and flowing like it does on Earth.
Underground magma may even have created the underground lake planetary scientists detected under Mars’ South Pole in 2018. “You need a heat source,” Ali Bramson, a scientist at the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory at the University of Arizona, told Mashable in 2019. “What could cause that heat source?” Bramson asked. “The only thing we could really come up with is an underground magma chamber that had to be active recently.”
It’s now prime time to record more Martian quakes. On Mars, the northern winter season can be profoundly windy, which rattles InSight’s seismometer and can make detecting quakes impossible. But now the winds have quelled.
“It’s wonderful to once again observe marsquakes after a long period of recording wind noise,” John Clinton, a seismologist on the InSight team, said in a statement.