Oct 27, 2022 - Science

Spacecraft feel, see major meteor impact on Mars

A meteor impact (dark hole) seen on Mars

A meteor impact seen on Mars. Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

A NASA lander on Mars felt the shockwaves from a major meteor strike on the Red Planet, according to new studies published Thursday.

Why it matters: The InSight lander's observations are allowing scientists to understand and map the interior and crust of Mars with great detail, potentially revealing more about how the world and even its atmosphere may have formed.

Driving the news: InSight felt a magnitude 4 marsquake caused by a meteor strike on Christmas Eve last year, according to two new studies in the journal Science.

  • Some of the waves caused by this meteor strike — called surface waves — hadn't been seen by InSight before, but they are particularly useful when trying to map the crust of the planet.
  • "The whole path between the event — in this case the impact — and InSight is sampled by the surface waves as they move across the planet," Bruce Banerdt, InSight's principal investigator, said during a press conference Thursday. "And so we have an idea of what the crust is over this fairly long path."
  • The impact occurred more than 2,000 miles away from InSight.

Context: Another study published in Nature Astronomy this week found magma may still flow beneath the surface of at least one part of Mars, causing marsquakes.

The intrigue: NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter also later caught sight of the impact crater the meteor created. The strike flung material up to 23 miles away, according to NASA, and even uncovered ice in the process.

  • “The image of the impact was unlike any I had seen before, with the massive crater, the exposed ice, and the dramatic blast zone preserved in the Martian dust,” Liliya Posiolova, who works with the MRO, said in a statement.
  • “I couldn’t help but imagine what it must have been like to witness the impact, the atmospheric blast, and debris ejected miles downrange.”

What to watch: InSight is nearing the end of its life on Mars after landing on the Red Planet in 2018.

  • Martian dust is settling on top of its solar panels, preventing it from drawing the power it needs.
  • NASA expects the probe will no longer be able to function in about six weeks, ending its mission.
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