The InSight lander of NASA observed a meteoroid collision on Mars

The InSight lander of NASA observed a meteoroid collision on Mars

NASA’s InSight lander may have made its final pass. The lander detected a marsquake in Mars’ Amazonis Planitia area on December 24th, 2021, which turned out to be a meteoroid impact – the first time any mission has observed a crater developing on the planet. Scientists discovered this after examining before-and-after images from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), which revealed a 492-foot gash in the surface.

The meteoroid was estimated to be between 16 and 39 feet long. It would have been destroyed in Earth’s atmosphere, yet it was massive enough to withstand Mars’ ultra-thin atmosphere. The impact was powerful, excavating a 70-foot-deep hole and flinging debris up to 23 kilometers away from the crater. It also revealed underlying ice that had previously been unseen so near to Mars’ equator. A sound adaption of Insight data (below) demonstrates how “loud” the event was in comparison to Mars’ normal activity.

It took some time for the event to be confirmed. In February, a Malin Space Science Systems team discovered the crater using two MRO cameras (the black-and-white Context Camera and the Mars Color Imager). Images from the color camera assisted in narrowing down the impact to a 24-hour period.



Separately, a group has proposed that 20 of the nearly 1,300 observed marsquakes by InSight might be evidence of magma. According to reports, the quakes’ spectral pattern suggests a rather fragile crust in Mars’ Cerberus Fossae area. When combined with black dust, this suggests that volcanic activity may have happened on Earth within the last 50,000 years.

The discovery might aid scientists in understanding Mars’ geologic chronology by determining the pace at which craters occur on the planet. It might also be useful for Mars colonists and explorers who require the subterranean ice for food and rocket fuel. Human visitors might bring fewer supplies or remain longer.

This is a bittersweet piece of news. NASA had already warned that InSight wouldn’t live much longer, and now expects the lander to shut down in six weeks due to building dust on its solar panels. That’s ahead of the end-of-summer deadline the agency expected this spring, but it may leave the meteorite finding as InSight’s final significant accomplishment.

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