The InSight lander on Mars has picked up the sound of a meteorite crashing to the planet’s surface. First time ever that seismic and acoustic waves from a Martian impact have been recorded by NASA. In a report published in Nature Geoscience, researchers discussed their findings on the new craters. Since InSight’s 2018 Mars landing, this is the first time the lander has encountered waves on the Red Planet.
The report claims that the meteoroid fell between 53 and 180 miles (85 and 290 kilometres) from where InSight is now stationed in Mars’ Elysium Planitia. On September 5, 2021, it collided with Mars’ atmosphere, exploding into three pieces that each went on to create a crater.
The crater positions were verified by using data from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter in orbit. Planetary geophysicist Bruce Banerdt of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the InSight mission’s principle investigator told Reuters, “These seismic observations provide us a fundamentally new instrument for understanding Mars, or any other planet we can place a seismometer on.”
NASA also shared an audio clip of the Martian meteoroid strike on Monday. There are three audible “bloops” that correspond to three separate stages of the impact: the meteoroid entering Mars’ atmosphere, bursting into bits, and impacting the ground. There is an atmospheric phenomenon causing the strange sound, which is also present in deserts on Earth. In deserts, lower-pitched noises arrive before higher-pitched ones.
Co-author and planetary scientist at Brown University, Ingrid Daubar, said, “It is possible to relate the characteristics of the seismic signal to the source’s known characteristics (such as kind, position, and size). All of InSight’s recorded seismic events may be better understood with this data, and the same principle can be applied to other planetary bodies and moons.”
After discovering the seismic signature of such strikes, researchers believe there must be more hidden in InSight’s data dating back to 2018, as reported by Reuters.
In 2018, the InSight lander touched down in the broad and relatively flat plain of Elysium Planitia, located just north of the Martian equator. InSight is an acronym for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy, and Heat Transport.
The study’s primary author, Raphael Garcia, is a planetary scientist at the University of Toulouse’s ISAE-SUPAERO institute of aeronautics and space. “The moon is also a target for future meteor impact detection,” he added.
And it’s possible that the same sensors will do it, as InSight’s spares are being combined into an instrument called the Farside Seismic Suite that will be sent to the moon in 2025 and stationed near the south pole on the side of the moon that is always turned away from Earth, Garcia said.
If a meteoroid (space rock) is going to impact Earth’s atmosphere before it hits the ground, the odds are about doubled for Mars. The atmosphere protecting Earth, however, is far more robust.
“Craters are extremely uncommon since meteoroids typically disintegrate in Earth’s atmosphere, creating fireballs. Whereas on Mars, hundreds of impact craters emerge annually somewhere on the planet’s surface, “Said Daubar.
There is just around 1 percent as much air in Mars’ atmosphere as there is on Earth. Between Mars and Jupiter sits the asteroid belt, a veritable treasure trove of space rocks.
Prior to launch, InSight’s scientific objectives included studying seismic activity and meteorite strikes in addition to examining the planet’s core structure and processes.
With the help of its seismometer equipment, InSight confirmed that Mars had an active seismic history, recording over 1,300 marsquakes. Seismic waves observed by InSight were used to determine Mars’s interior structure, such as the size of its huge liquid metal core, the thickness of its crust, and the composition of its mantle, according to a study released last year.