First ‘marsquake’ captured by British-built sensors

The NASA InSight lander has detected seismic activity on Mars via its British-built sensors, this could enable scientists to understand the internal structure of the planet in more detail.

British built sensors captured seismic activity on Mars - image courtesy of NASA.
British built sensors captured seismic activity on Mars – image courtesy of NASA.

A marsquake is similar to an earthquake; it’s a seismic shaking of the surface or interior of Mars, caused as a result of a sudden release of energy.

The signal was detected earlier this month (6 April), the 128th day of the mission, and it was captured by InSight’s Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS).

SEIS includes three Short Period sensors (SEIS SP) developed in partnership by Imperial College London, Oxford University and STFC RAL Space, with £4m in funding from the UK Space Agency.

These sensors are “the most sensitive silicon sensors on Earth” and can detect motion at sub-atomic scales, professor Tom Pike of Imperial College London, who lead the UK contribution said. “Up to now we didn’t know if even that was going to be good enough.” 

The intricate nature of space exploration and beyond means that precision is key in the manufacture, assembly and testing of sensors and components that are to be deployed.

InSight, which landed on Mars on 26 November 2018, aims to study the inside of the planet to learn how planets, moons and meteorites with rocky surfaces are formed.

The UK space sector by numbers

The government’s ‘Size & Health of the UK Space Industry 2018’ report shows that, compared to 2016;

  • Income is up from £13.7bn to almost £15bn (£14.8bn)
  • Employment is up from 38,522 to 41,900
  • Exports are up from £5bn to £5.5bn

The UK Space Agency is offering young people expert advice for their ideas of how satellites could improve life on Earth - image courtesy of Pixabay.

It also showed that an average of 39 new companies have been added to the UK space sector every year since 2012.

Britain has significant capabilities in the manufacture of space equipment, building major parts for one in four of the world’s commercial telecommunications satellites.

Detecting these quakes on a planet 140 million miles from Earth is a spectacular feat of science and engineering, a testament to the UK’s world leading science and engineering space sector,” said science minister Chris Skidmore.