June 5, 2023
Meteorite blasts 'largest new crater' NASA has ever seen on Mars

Meteorite blasts ‘largest new crater’ NASA has ever seen on Mars

A recent meteor impact on Mars was so powerful it could be felt by a NASA lander thousands of miles away – and the new Martian crater it created could affect our plans to send humans to the Red Planet.

Surface level: On December 24, 2021, NASA’s aging InSight spacecraft detected seismic waves on Mars. This was not unusual – the lander has detected more than 1,300 earthquakes in the past – but what it was remarkable was the kind of waves he detected.

“This is the first time that surface seismic waves have been observed on a planet other than Earth.”

Doyeon Kim

Rather than “body waves” coming from deep underground, these were “surface waves” that had traveled along rocks on the Martian surface. NASA had hoped for years to detect these waves with InSight to improve its understanding of the Martian crust.

“This is the first time that surface seismic waves have been observed on a planet other than Earth,” said Doyeon Kim, lead author of a paper on the sill. “Not even the Apollo missions to the moon made it.”

Even more interesting, NASA didn’t know exactly what caused the waves.

Going deeper: Fast forward to February 11, 2022, when a team at Malin Space Science Systems (MSSS) spotted a new Martian crater in images from another spacecraft, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

“It’s a huge, huge feature,” Liliya Posiolova, head of the MSSS’s Orbital Science and Operations Group, told the Washington Post. “You’re trained to see small features. You look for smudges with your eye.”

“This crater is more than 10 times larger than the typical new craters we see forming on Mars.”

Ingrid Dowbar

Based on higher-resolution images of the crater, researchers determined that it is about 490 feet wide and 70 feet deep.

“It was immediately clear that this is the largest new crater we’ve ever seen … even though meteorites hit the planet all the time, this crater is more than 10 times larger than the typical new craters we see forming on Mars,” he said. . Ingrid Daubar, head of InSight’s Impact Science Working Group.

The impact that made the crater was powerful enough to send material flying 23 miles away — and dislodge large chunks of water ice from beneath the Martian surface.

NASA had never detected water ice this close to the Martian equator, and the discovery is a boon for future human exploration missions — Martian astronauts will need a source of water, and the climate near the equator is less hostile than near its polar ice. Mars caps.

Images before and after the impact site. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Tying it all together: To narrow down the date of the impact, Posiolova’s team began looking at older images of the crater’s location and discovered that it first appeared on December 25, 2021. That’s when Posiolova remembered that InSight had detected a large earthquake on December 24 .

The location of the new Martian crater matched the predicted epicenter of the earthquake, confirming that it was caused by the meteorite impact. This means that NASA managed to stick optically and audio data on the record-breaking event.

“We thought that a crater of this size might form somewhere on the planet once every few decades, maybe once a generation,” Daubar said. “So it was very exciting to witness this event and to be lucky enough to have it happen while InSight was recording seismic data — that was a real scientific gift.”

crater of Mars

A representation of the seismic waves generated by the impact and InSight’s position. Credit: IPGP / CNES / N. Starter

Saying Goodbye: The discovery was particularly fortuitous, given that NASA uses InSight’s seismometer only once every four days.

“For the past four years, the spacecraft has been collecting a lot of dust on its solar panels,” said Bruce Barnerdt, principal investigator of the Insight mission. “We’ve kind of limited the spacecraft’s operations as it happened in order to squeeze in as much science data as we can.”

NASA expects InSight to run out of power completely within the next six to eight weeks — but thanks to the new impact-triggered earthquake, the lander goes off with a bang.

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