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Oxford study discovers source of largest ever Mars quake

An Oxford led team of scientists have recently revealed the results of a unique collaborative project which looked to explore the source of the greatest recorded seismic event on Mars.

The study indicated that the quake was a consequence of enormous tectonic forces within Mars’ crust and ruled out the possibility of a meteorite impact.

This seismic event (S1222a) was recorded by NASA’s InSight lander last year, on Wednesday 4th May 2022. NASA recorded the marsquake’s magnitude of 4.7 which caused the planet to vibrate for at least six hours.

While Mars is smaller than Earth, it still has comparable land surface area as it has no oceans. To survey this vast amount of ground, 144 million km2, Oxford’s project lead, Dr Benjamin Fernando from the Department of Physics, sought contributions from different space agencies around the world.

In an unprecedented fashion, it is believed that this is the first time that all missions in orbit around Mars have worked together on a single project. This included assistance from the European Space Agency, the Chinese National Space Agency, the Indian Space Research Organisation, and the United Arab Emirates Space Agency.

On Mars, InSight (co-designed by Oxford) recorded at least eight seismic events caused by meteoroid impacts, forming craters that reached up to 150m in diameter. Eventually, after several months, scientists concluded that S122a could not have been caused by a meteoroid, as no fresh or larger crater was found. Instead, it is thought to be from interior tectonic forces, which indicate the planet is much more seismically active than previously believed.

This study, drawing on global expertise, has highlighted the potential of collaborative work on scientific discovery and knowledge. Oxford’s Dr Benjamin Fernando said: “This project represents a huge international effort to help solve the mystery of S1222a, and I am incredibly grateful to all the missions who contributed. I hope this project serves as a template for productive international collaborations in deep space.”

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