It’s the first time a mission has been chosen Seismic and sound waves from its collision with Mars, InSight’s first detection of impacts since it landed on the Red Planet in 2018.
Fortunately, InSight was not in the way of these meteorites, which is the name given to space rocks before they reached Earth. Impacts ranged from 53 to 180 miles (85 to 290 kilometers) away from the rover’s fixed location on Mars’ Elysium Planitia, a smooth plain north of the equator.
A meteorite hit Mars’ atmosphere on September 5, 2021, then exploded into at least three fragments, each one leaving a crater on the Red Planet’s surface.
The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter then flew over the site to confirm where the meteor landed, and spotted three dark areas. The rover’s color photographer, the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment Camera, captured detailed close-ups of the craters.
“After three years of waiting for InSight to discover the impact, those craters looked beautiful,” Ingrid Daubar, associate professor of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, said in a statement.
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 the Martian meteorite impact on Monday. During the clip, hear a sci-fi-like “bloop” three times as a space rock enters the atmosphere and explodes into pieces and crashes into the surface.
Scientists have already wondered why no further impacts have been detected on Mars because the planet is located next to the main asteroid belt of our solar system, where many space rocks appear to hit the surface of Mars. The atmosphere of Mars is only 1% as thick as Earth’s, which means that more meteorites pass through it without disintegrating.
During its time on Mars, InSight used its seismometer to detect more than 1,300 earthquakes, which occur when the surface of Mars is fractured by pressure and heat. Sensitive instrument can detect seismic waves occurring thousands of miles away from InSight — but the September 2021 event is the first time scientists have used it waves to confirm its effect.
It is possible that the noise of Mars’ winds or seasonal changes in the atmosphere masked the additional effects. Now that the researchers understand what the seismic signature of the impact looks like, they expect to find more when they comb through InSight 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 turbulent history of the solar system.
“The effects are the clocks of the solar system,” lead author Rafael Garcia, an academic researcher at the Higher Institute of Electricity and Space in Toulouse, France, said in a statement. “We need to know the impact rate today to estimate the age of the different surfaces.”
Studying InSight data could provide researchers with a way to analyze the trajectory and magnitude of the shock wave generated when a meteorite enters the atmosphere as well as once it hits Earth.
“We are learning more about the impact process itself,” Garcia said. “We can now match different sizes of craters to specific seismic and acoustic waves now.”
The latest readings indicated that it may close between next October and January 2023.
Until then, the spacecraft still has a chance to add to its research portfolio and an amazing array of discoveries on Mars.