NASA’s Mars lander captures impacts from 4 incoming space rocks


A NASA lander on Mars captured the vibrations and sounds of four meteorites hitting the planet’s surface.

Scientists reported Monday that Mars InSight detected seismic and acoustic waves from a series of impacts in 2020 and 2021. A satellite orbiting the Red Planet confirmed the impact sites, up to 290 kilometers (180 miles) from the lander.

Scientists are delighted with the detections, a first on another planet.

The first confirmed meteoroid exploded into at least three pieces, each leaving its own crater. An 11-second audio snippet of this attack includes three “bloops,” as NASA calls them, one that sounds like metal flapping hard in the wind here on Earth.

“After three years of InSight waiting to detect an impact, those craters looked beautiful,” Ingrid Daubar of Brown University, co-author of the research paper in the journal Nature Geoscience, said in a statement.

The InSight team expected to detect numerous meteorite impacts, given Mars’ proximity to the asteroid belt and the planet’s thin atmosphere, which tends to prevent incoming space rocks from burning up. But the lander’s French-made seismometer may have missed the impacts due to interference from Martian wind noise or seasonal changes in the atmosphere. Now scientists know what to look for, according to NASA, which is likely to result in a flurry of detections.

“Impacts are the clocks of the solar system,” French lead author Raphael Garcia said in a statement from the Higher Institute of Aeronautics and Space in Toulouse. “We need to know the impact rate today to estimate the age of different surfaces.”

Released in 2018, InSight has already detected more than 1,300 marsquakes . The largest measured magnitude 5 earlier this year. By comparison, marsquakes generated by meteorite impacts did not register more than a magnitude of 2.

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