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NASA’s InSight Lander has “heard” and detected the vibrations of four space rocks as they slammed into Mars over the past two years.
This is the first time a mission has received it Both seismic and acoustic waves from a Martian impact, and InSight’s first detection of impacts since landing on the red planet in 2018.
Fortunately, InSight was not in the path of these meteoroids, the name of the space rocks before they hit the earth. The impacts were between 53 and 180 miles (85 and 290 kilometers) from the landing position on Mars’ Elysium Planitia, a smooth plain north of its equator.
A meteoroid hit the Martian atmosphere on September 5, 2021, 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 meteoroid landed, and observed three darkened areas. The orbiter’s color imager, the High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment camera, captured detailed close-ups of the crater.
The researchers shared their findings new craters in a study published Monday in the journal Nature Geoscience.
“After three years of waiting for InSight to detect the impact, those craters looked beautiful,” said study author Ingrid Daubar, assistant professor of Earth, environmental and planetary sciences at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island.
Data from InSight 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 a Martian meteoroid impact 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 questioned why more impacts haven’t been detected on Mars, because the planet is right next to our solar system’s main asteroid belt, where many space rocks emerge to hit the Martian surface. The Martian atmosphere is only 1% as thick as Earth’s, meaning more meteoroids pass through it without disintegrating.
During its stay on Mars, InSight has used its seismometer to detect more than 1,300 marsupials, which occur when the Martian subsurface cracks due to pressure and heat. The sensitive instrument can detect seismic waves occurring thousands of kilometers from InSight’s location, but the September 2021 event is the first time scientists have used it. waves to confirm an impact.
Additional impacts may be masked by Martian wind noise or seasonal changes in the atmosphere. Now that the researchers understand what the seismic signature of an impact looks like, they hope to find more when they comb through InSight’s data from the last four years.
Seismic waves are helping researchers unlock additional information about Mars’ interior because it changes as it moves through different materials.
Meteoroid impacts produce earthquakes of magnitude 2.0 or less. To date, the largest earthquake detected by InSight was a magnitude 5 event in May.
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.
“Impacts are the clocks of the solar system,” lead author Raphael Garcia, an academic researcher at the Institut Supérieur de l’Aéronautique et de l’Espace in Toulouse, France, said in a statement. “Today we need to know the impact rate to estimate the age of the different surfaces.”
Analyzing InSight’s data can give researchers a way to study the path and size of the shock wave created when the meteoroid enters the atmosphere and hits the ground.
“We’re learning more about the impact process,” Garcia said. “We can now match different crater sizes with specific seismic and acoustic waves.”
InSight’s mission is coming to an end as dust accumulates on its solar panels and reduces power. Eventually, the spacecraft will shut down, but the team isn’t sure when that will happen.
According to the latest readings, it has been suggested that it could be closed between next October and January 2023.
Until then, the spacecraft still has the opportunity to add to its research portfolio and amazing collection of Martian discoveries.