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Sci-Tech

Scientists built a 'quake room' to test marsquakes on Earth

Researchers compared quakes from Earth, the moon and Mars inside a "quake room."

InSight's seismometer on the surface of Mars. It is now under a protective cover.

NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA's InSight lander made space exploration history in April when it detected a shimmy on Mars with its seismometer. The sensitive instrument is designed to study marsquakes, but those quakes aren't quite like the ones we're familiar with here on Earth.

Researchers at ETH Zurich university in Switzerland wanted to know what a marsquake actually feels like, so they fed the data from the InSight seismometer into a quake simulator and compared the action with quake data collected from Earth and the moon.

The video shows the researchers sitting in a replica of a room in a house, complete with glasses of water, wall decor and plants on a shelf. 

The earthquake gave them a sharp, fast shake. The moonquake built up more slowly. The marsquake created a lot of side-to-side motion in the simulation room, causing the researchers to grab the water glasses so they wouldn't fall off the table.

The marsquakes detected so far have been very faint. "Researchers had to amplify the marsquake signals by a factor of 10 million in order to make the quiet and distant tremors perceptible in comparison to the similarly amplified moonquakes and unamplified earthquakes," NASA said in a release on Monday.

Scientists have identified two types of marsquakes: a high-frequency moonquake-style temblor and a low-frequency quake that may have happened at a greater distance from the seismometer. "Compared to the duration of earthquakes, both types of the marsquakes last longer," said Simon Stähler, a research seismologist at ETH Zurich.

InSight, which landed in late 2018, is on a mission to study the interior of Mars in hopes of learning more about how rocky planets form. 

We're still in the early days of studying marsquakes, but scientists hope the shakes will tell us more about the structure of the Red Planet. Experiencing the quakes in person is a visceral way to feel the difference between seismic activity here on Earth and that on a distant planet.

Originally published 12:29 p.m. PT