To untrained ears, the minute-long recording is just a vague, coded echo. For space specialists, sound is historic. NASA published, on Thursday, October 27, the audio recording of an earthquake observed on Mars, on December 24, 2021, after a meteorite hit the surface of the Red Planet.
Our @NASAInSight Mars lander “heard” seismic signals while our Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter captured images of the i… https://t.co/8A9ojw5iUW
The tremors, of magnitude 4, were detected by the Insight probe and its seismometer, placed on Mars almost four years ago, about 3,500 kilometers from the impact site. The origin of this Martian tremor was confirmed only a second time, by the spacecraft called the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). In orbit around the planet, it took pictures of the newly formed crater within twenty-four hours of the event.
The picture is impressive: blocks of ice were thrown to the surface and a crater about 150 meters in diameter and 20 meters deep was dug. The largest ever observed since the launch of the MRO orbiter sixteen years ago. Although meteorite impacts on Mars are not uncommon, “We never thought we would see something so big”Ingrid Daubar, who works on the Insight and MRO missions, told a news conference Thursday.
12 meter meteorite
The researchers estimate that the meteorite itself must have been around 12 meters, which on Earth would have caused it to disintegrate in the atmosphere. “This is simply the largest meteorite impact on the ground that has been heard since we do science with seismographs or seismometers”explained to Agence France-Presse Philippe Lognonné, professor of planetology who participated in two studies resulting from these observations, published Thursday in the journal Sciences.
The information collected should allow to refine the knowledge of the interior of Mars and the history of its formation. The presence of ice, in particular, is “amazing”stressed Ingrid Daubar, also co-author of the two studies. “It is the hottest point on Mars, the closest to the equator, where we have seen ice. »
In addition to the scientific interest of this discovery for the study of the Martian climate, the presence of water at this latitude could demonstrate ” very useful “ for future explorers, said Lori Glaze, director of planetary science at NASA. “We would like astronauts to land as close to the equator as possible”he said, due to warmer temperatures. However, the ice present in the place could be transformed into water or oxygen.
The impact of the meteorite was powerful enough to generate both body waves (propagating towards the core) and surface waves (horizontally passing through the planet’s crust), allowing the internal structure of Mars to be studied in detail. Thus, the crust Insight lies in was found to be less dense than the crust traversed from the collision site.
Unsurprisingly, Insight is now operating in slow motion due to dust that has built up on its solar panels. Contact has probably already been lost “about four to eight weeks”said Bruce Banerdt of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory on Thursday, who thought he was “sad” but celebrated the success of the mission, which detected more than 1,300 “Marsquakes”.
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