Mars lander captures strikes by four meteoroids

Image credit: Dreamstime

A Nasa lander on Mars has captured the vibrations and sounds of four meteoroids striking the planet’s surface.

Scientists reported that the InSight lander detected seismic and acoustic waves from a series of impacts in 2020 and 2021.

A satellite orbiting the Red Planet confirmed the impact location as being up to 180 miles away from the lander.

Scientists are delighted by the detections, as they are a first for another planet. The first confirmed meteoroid exploded into at least three pieces, each leaving its own crater.

An 11-second audio snippet of this strike includes three 'bloops', as Nasa calls them, sounding like metal flapping loudly in the wind here on Earth.

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

The InSight team expected to pick up numerous meteoroid strikes, given Mars’s proximity to the asteroid belt and the planet’s thin atmosphere, which tends to mean that space rocks entering it don't burn up.

The lander’s French-built seismometer may have missed earlier impacts because of interfering noise from the Martian wind or seasonal changes in the atmosphere. Now that scientists know what to look for, this is likely to result in a surge of fresh detections, according to Nasa.

“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.”

Launched in 2018, InSight has already detected more than 1,300 'marsquakes'. The largest measured magnitude 5 and was observed earlier this year.

The marsquakes generated by the meteoroid impacts registered no more than magnitude 2.

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