Space Time

NASA’s Marsquake Recording Joins the Soundtrack of the Cosmos

Space is far from silent, and we can learn a lot if we know how to listen

Shannon Stirone
Published in
3 min readMay 1, 2019
Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech

LLike many other planets in the solar system, Mars was once very geologically active. It had massive volcanoes and rivers and lakes of water. It may also have experienced internal quakes — marsquakes.

When NASA’s InSight lander touched base on Mars in November 2018, the spacecraft brought with it a suite of instruments to study the interior of the planet. One of these instruments is an extremely sensitive and custom-made seismometer called SEIS, which is used on Mars to detect any marsquakes taking place deep in the planet’s interior. Last week, NASA announced that the InSight team caught the first marsquake ever detected. The agency also released audio of the marsquake along with the announcement, following common practice for seismologists studying quakes here on Earth.

“Turning seismic signals into sound is just a different way of appreciating the seismic waveforms,” says Mark Panning, a seismologist on the InSight team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “Basically it comes down to speeding up the signals we’re already recording into the audible frequency range.”

We might imagine space as largely silent, but historically, recordings from space have led to valuable insights about the cosmos.

While this first marsquake was too small to tell scientists much about the internal workings of the planet, the hope is that future recordings will help scientists break down the nuances in the movements. And the more often they detect active quakes, the more they’ll learn about what exactly is happening inside Mars.

We might imagine space as largely silent — the place where no one can hear you scream — but historically, recordings from space have led to valuable insights about the cosmos. These…