- Press Release
- Jun 3, 2023
Marsquake detection sensors will take search for water underground
Researchers at Imperial College London have just begun a 5-year
project to design and build tiny earthquake measuring devices to go
to Mars on the 2007 NetLander mission.
Unlike the instruments on next year’s European Mars Express/Beagle II
mission, the Marsquake sensors will be the first to look deep inside
The internal structure of Mars is a key to understanding some
fundamental questions about the planet including whether life ever
The sensors are capable of detecting liquid water reservoirs hidden
below the surface, where life could possibly survive on Mars today.
The recent discovery by the Mars Odyssey orbiter of large amounts of
ice at the poles opens up the possibility of liquid water existing
in the warmer conditions underground near the Martian equator.
Dr Tom Pike, of Imperial College London, is designing the heart of
the sensor, a two-centimetre square of silicon.
"We’re micromachining a near-perfect spring and weight from a single
piece of silicon. We’ll be able to detect the weight shuddering in
response to a Marsquake from anywhere on the planet," he said.
The 2007 NetLander mission, led by the French space agency, CNES,
will land four modules across the surface of Mars, each containing
instruments to look at the structure and weather of Mars on a global
scale. All four will be near the equator.
"The network of instruments will help us to pinpoint each Marsquake
by triangulation," said Dr Pike. "We’ll look at how the vibrations
from Marsquakes travel through the planet and work out what’s going
on deep inside. If these vibrations hit liquid water under the
landing sites, we should see a distinctive signature. That’s when
the search for life on Mars will move underground."
Dr Pike is currently building up the team at Imperial College to
develop the sensors under a contract from the Jet Propulsion
Laboratory. The Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, Oxfordshire, is
providing the fabrication facilities. The Marsquake instrument
consortium includes Imperial College, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory
in Pasadena, the Institute de Physique du Globe in Paris and ETH,
Pictures of the sensors are available at from contacts below.
For further information please contact:
Dr W. Thomas Pike
Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering
Imperial College London
Tel: +44 (0)20 7594 6207
Mob: +44(0) 790 560 8265
Email: [email protected]
Imperial College Press Office
Tel: +44 (0)20 7594 2624
Mob: +44 (0)7803 886248
Email: [email protected]
See also Electrical and Electronic Engineering website,
* NetLander Mission home page
Notes to editors:
Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine is the largest
applied science, technology and medicine university institution in
the UK. It is consistently rated in the top three UK university
institutions for research quality, with one of the largest annual
turnovers (UKP390 million for 2000-01) and research incomes (UKP202
million for 2000-01). In the December 2001 Research Assessment
Exercise, 75 per cent of staff achieved a 5* rating, the highest
proportion in any UK university. Visit: www.ic.ac.uk