This is the first time a mission has been launched seismic and acoustic waves from an impact on Mars, and the first detection of impacts by InSight since landing on the Red Planet in 2018.
Fortunately, InSight was not in the path of these meteoroids, the name of space rocks before they hit the ground. The impacts ranged from 53 to 180 miles (85 to 290 kilometers) from the stationary lander’s position in Mars’ Elysium Planitia, a smooth plain just north of its equator.
A meteoroid struck the Martian atmosphere on September 5, 2021, then exploded into at least three bursts, each leaving behind a crater on the Red Planet’s surface.
The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter then flew over the site to confirm where the meteoroid had landed, spotting three dark areas. The orbiter’s color imager, the High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment Camera, took detailed close-ups of the craters.
“After three years of waiting for InSight to detect an impact, these craters were magnificent,” said study co-author Ingrid Daubar, assistant professor of Earth, environmental and planetary sciences. at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, in a statement.
InSight data also revealed three other similar impacts, one on May 27, 2020 and two more in 2021 on February 18 and August 31.
The agency released a recording of the impact of a Martian meteoroid on Monday. During the clip, hear a very sci-fi “bloop” three times as the space rock enters the atmosphere, explodes into pieces and hits the surface.
Scientists have actually wondered why more impacts have not been detected on Mars because the planet is located next to our solar system’s main asteroid belt, where many space rocks emerge to hit the surface. martian. The Martian atmosphere is only 1% the thickness of Earth’s atmosphere, which means more meteoroids pass through it without disintegrating.
While on Mars, InSight used its seismometer to detect more than 1,300 earthquakes, which occur when the Martian subsoil cracks under pressure and heat. The sensitive instrument can detect seismic waves that occur thousands of miles from InSight’s location – but the September 2021 event is the first time scientists have used it waves to confirm an impact.
It’s possible that Martian wind noise or seasonal changes in the atmosphere masked the additional impacts. Now that researchers understand what the seismic signature of an impact looks like, they expect to discover more by sifting through InSight’s data from the past four years.
Impact craters help scientists understand the age of a planet’s surface. Researchers can also determine how many craters formed early in the solar system’s tumultuous history.
“Impacts are the clocks of the solar system,” said lead author Raphael Garcia, a research fellow at the Institut Supérieur de l’Aéronautique et de l’Espace in Toulouse, France, in a statement. “We need to know the impact rate today to estimate the age of the different surfaces.”
Studying the InSight data may provide researchers with a way to analyze the path and size of the shock wave produced when the meteoroid enters the atmosphere as well as once it hits the ground.
“We’re learning more about the impact process itself,” Garcia said. “We can now match different sizes of craters to specific seismic and acoustic waves.”
The most recent readings suggest it could close between October and January 2023.
Until then, the spacecraft still has a chance to add to its research portfolio and superb collection of Mars discoveries.
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