This is the first time a mission has raised Both seismic and acoustic waves from an impact on Mars, and the first detection of InSight’s impacts since landing on the Red Planet in 2018.
Fortunately, InSight was not in the way of these meteorites, the namesake of space rocks, before hitting the ground. The impacts were 53 to 180 miles (85 to 290 kilometers) away from the stationary lander’s position in Mars’ Elysium Planitia, a smooth plain just north of the equator.
On September 5, 2021, a meteorite hit the Martian atmosphere and then exploded into at least three pieces, each leaving a crater on the Red Planet’s surface.
The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter flew over the site to confirm where the meteorite landed, observing three dark areas. The orbiter’s color imager, the High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment Camera, took detailed close-ups of the craters.
Study co-author Ingrid Dabur, an assistant professor of Earth, environmental and planetary sciences at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, said in a statement, “After three years of InSight’s impact detection, those craters looked beautiful. ”
InSight’s data also revealed three other similar impacts, one on May 27, 2020, and two additional impacts in 2021 on February 18 and August 31.
The agency released a recording of the Martian meteorite impact on Monday. During the clip, listen to a very science fiction-sounding “bloop” three times as the space rock enters the atmosphere, explodes into pieces and hits the surface.
Scientists have actually questioned why more impacts have not been detected on Mars because the planet lies next to our solar system’s main asteroid belt, where many space rocks are thought to have collided with the surface of Mars. The Martian atmosphere is only 1% of the thickness of Earth’s atmosphere, which means that more meteorites zip through it without disintegrating.
During its time on Mars, InSight has used its seismometer to detect more than 1,300 marsquakes, which occur when pressure and heat cause the Martian subsurface to break down. Sensitive instrument can detect seismic waves thousands of miles away from InSight’s location – but the September 2021 event is the first time scientists have used Waves to confirm an effect.
It is possible that Martian wind noise or seasonal changes in the atmosphere mask additional effects. Now that researchers understand what the seismic signature of an impact looks like, they expect to find more when they comb through InSight’s data from the past four years.
Impact craters help scientists understand the age of the planet’s surface. Researchers can also determine how many craters formed early in the solar system’s turbulent history.
“The effects are the clocks of the solar system,” said lead author Rafael García, academic researcher at the Institut Supérieure de l’Aéronautique et de l’Espace in Toulouse, France, in a statement. “We need to know the impact rates today to estimate the age of the different surfaces.”
Studying InSight’s data could provide researchers with a way to analyze the trajectory and shape of the shock wave generated when the meteorite entered the atmosphere as well as once it struck the ground.
“We are learning more about the impact process,” Garcia said. “Now we can match craters of different sizes for specific seismic and acoustic waves.”
The most recent readings have suggested that it may close between the coming October and January 2023.
Until then, the spacecraft still has a chance to add to its research portfolio and the astonishing collection of discoveries on Mars.