NASA’s InSight mission, which landed on Mars in 2018, has been studying the interior and atmosphere of the Red Planet using a seismometer, a heat probe, and a weather station. One of the most exciting discoveries made by InSight was the detection of marsquakes, or seismic waves caused by tectonic activity or meteor impacts.
On April 6, 2021, InSight recorded a strong marsquake that lasted about 90 seconds and had a magnitude of 3.3. The seismometer data was later converted into sound by NASA scientists, allowing us to listen to the rumble of a meteor slamming into Mars. The sound is sped up by a factor of 60 and filtered to make it audible to human ears. You can hear the sound of the meteor impact here.
The meteor broke into multiple pieces during its entry into Mars’ thin atmosphere and created at least three craters on the surface, which were imaged by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). The craters are located about 1,000 kilometers away from InSight’s landing site, in a region called Elysium Planitia. The largest crater is about 5 meters in diameter, while the smaller ones are about 2 meters each. You can see the images of the craters here.
Why this event is important for science
The meteor impact and the resulting marsquake provide valuable information about the structure and composition of Mars’ crust and mantle. By analyzing the seismic waves, scientists can infer the thickness, density, and elasticity of the different layers of the planet. This can help us understand how Mars formed and evolved over time, and how it differs from Earth and other rocky planets.
The meteor impact also offers a glimpse into the frequency and intensity of meteor bombardment on Mars. Unlike Earth, which has a thick atmosphere that burns up most of the incoming meteors, Mars has a much thinner atmosphere that allows more meteors to reach the surface. This means that Mars is more exposed to the hazards of space, and that its surface is more scarred by craters. By estimating the size and speed of the meteor that hit Mars, scientists can calculate the probability of such events occurring in the future, and the potential damage they could cause to any future human or robotic missions.
How InSight and MRO work together to explore Mars
The meteor impact event is a great example of how InSight and MRO complement each other in their exploration of Mars. InSight is a stationary lander that focuses on the subsurface and atmospheric properties of Mars, while MRO is an orbiting spacecraft that surveys the surface and climate of Mars. By combining their data and observations, the two missions can provide a more complete and detailed picture of the Red Planet.
InSight and MRO are not the only missions that are currently operating on or around Mars. NASA also has the Curiosity rover, the Perseverance rover, and the Ingenuity helicopter on the surface, and the MAVEN and Odyssey orbiters in space. In addition, there are several international missions from China, India, the United Arab Emirates, and the European Space Agency. Together, these missions are advancing our knowledge and understanding of Mars, and paving the way for future exploration and discovery.