Mars is all shook up – literally

New research is shedding light on volcanic activity beneath the surface of the Red Planet.
Alex Dook
Alex Dook
Freelance writer
Mars is all shook up – literally
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Recently, 47 new ‘marsquakes’ (that is, quakes on Mars) have been detected by Professor Hrvoje Tkalčić from the Australian National University and Professor Weijia Sun from the Chinese Academy of Science. The discovery suggests Mars to be more seismically active than previously thought.

The findings also provide clues about the composition of Mars and how other rocky planets in our Solar System formed billions of years ago.

I feel the Mars move under my feet

First of all, if you’re wondering how to measure quakes on Mars, the answer is deceptively simple.

Send a robot up there!

Hrvoje’s and Weijia’s research was based on seismic data collected by NASA’s InSight Mars lander.

InSight is the first outer space robotic explorer to study the Red Planet’s crust, mantle and core in depth.

InSight’s instruments, including a seismometer, have probed the Martian subsurface since November 2018.

Video credit: NASA via YouTube

Previously, tectonic forces were thought to be responsible for marsquakes. But this is being challenged by the new study.

The marsquakes discovered by Hrvoje and Weijia all occurred in the same area, suggesting they were caused by the movement of magma in the Martian mantle (try saying that quickly!)

“Magmatic and tectonic processes are both caused by a planet’s internal activity,” says Hrvoje. “However, Mars has a single tectonic plate while Earth has more than a dozen. So the dynamics are quite different.”

Piecing together a picture

Studying seismic data allows geophysicists to peer inside a planet.

“Like on Earth, quakes generate seismic waves that move through the planetary interior,” says Hrvoje.

“These waves are interpreted with sophisticated imaging methods, similar to how a doctor uses an X-ray to image the human body.”

Like a doctor, geophysicists can use these images to understand how things work and how the planet formed. An important area of study is Mars’ magnetic field – or lack thereof.

Artist’s impression of marsquakes

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ETH Zurich/ Van Driel
Artist’s impression of marsquakes

It’s magnetic

Earth’s magnetic field is a vast, comet-shaped ‘bubble’ that protects our planet from harmful cosmic radiation. Without it, Earth would be uninhabitable.

“Mars once had a magnetic field, but it died millions of years ago,” says Hrvoje.

“That had catastrophic consequences for the potential of life development and preservation.”

So when and why did it die? They’re big questions Hrvoje and Weijia hope their work can help answer.

“If we can show that the Martian mantle is still mobile, we will have discovered important clues for scientists who are investigating the Martian palaeomagnetic field and the period of time the Red Planet may have been habitable,” says Hrvoje.

Probing deeper than ever before

There’s a long way to go for humankind’s mission to understand Mars.

“We are still in a discovery stage, and that’s what makes this field exciting!” says Hrvoje.

Since the publication of Hrvoje and Weijia’s research, the InSight detected the biggest quake ever recorded on another planet. The estimated magnitude 5 marsquake was recorded on 4 May. (Previously, the largest recorded marsquake was an estimated magnitude 4.2 on 25 August 2021.)

“This is extremely important because larger quakes often produce less-ambiguous signals,” says Hrvoje.

“The quake will be used to probe even deeper into the Martian interior and further illuminate the mantle.”

If Mars isn’t as dead as we thought, this has implications for its future as well as its history – especially if scientists hope to one day establish life on the Red Planet.

Alex Dook
About the author
Alex Dook
Raised by a physics teacher and a university professor, Alex had no choice but to be a science nerd. He has worked in science communication in both Perth and Melbourne, mainly setting things on fire for delighted children. Alex is now a freelance science writer and content creator.
View articles
Raised by a physics teacher and a university professor, Alex had no choice but to be a science nerd. He has worked in science communication in both Perth and Melbourne, mainly setting things on fire for delighted children. Alex is now a freelance science writer and content creator.
View articles


We've got chemistry, let's take it to the next level!

Get the latest WA science news delivered to your inbox, every fortnight.


Creative Commons Logo

Republishing our content

We want our stories to be shared and seen by as many people as possible.

Therefore, unless it says otherwise, copyright on the stories on Particle belongs to Scitech and they are published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

This allows you to republish our articles online or in print for free. You just need to credit us and link to us, and you can’t edit our material or sell it separately.

Using the ‘republish’ button on our website is the easiest way to meet our guidelines.


You cannot edit the article.

When republishing, you have to credit our authors, ideally in the byline. You have to credit Particle with a link back to the original publication on Particle.

If you’re republishing online, you must use our pageview counter, link to us and include links from our story. Our page view counter is a small pixel-ping (invisible to the eye) that allows us to know when our content is republished. It’s a condition of our guidelines that you include our counter. If you use the ‘republish’ then you’ll capture our page counter.

If you’re republishing in print, please email us to let us so we know about it (we get very proud to see our work republished) and you must include the Particle logo next to the credits. Download logo here.

If you wish to republish all our stories, please contact us directly to discuss this opportunity.


Most of the images used on Particle are copyright of the photographer who made them.

It is your responsibility to confirm that you’re licensed to republish images in our articles.


All Particle videos can be accessed through YouTube under the Standard YouTube Licence.

The Standard YouTube licence

  1. This licence is ‘All Rights Reserved’, granting provisions for YouTube to display the content, and YouTube’s visitors to stream the content. This means that the content may be streamed from YouTube but specifically forbids downloading, adaptation, and redistribution, except where otherwise licensed. When uploading your content to YouTube it will automatically use the Standard YouTube licence. You can check this by clicking on Advanced Settings and looking at the dropdown box ‘License and rights ownership’.
  2. When a user is uploading a video he has license options that he can choose from. The first option is “standard YouTube License” which means that you grant the broadcasting rights to YouTube. This essentially means that your video can only be accessed from YouTube for watching purpose and cannot be reproduced or distributed in any other form without your consent.


For more information about using our content, email us:

Copy this HTML into your CMS
Press Ctrl+C to copy