InSight mission recorded seismic vibrations from meteorite impact on Mars

The InSight device recorded seismic waves resulting from the fall of four meteorites on Mars. This is the first such find in the history of the study of the Red Planet.

Seismic waves of shock origin

The InSight probe landed on Mars in November 2018. The main objective of its mission is to study the internal structure and tectonic activity of the Red Planet. For this, InSight unloaded the SEIS seismometer to the surface. During its work, it recorded over 1300 marsquakes.

The first and most interesting such case occurred on September 5, 2001. The object that entered the atmosphere of the Red Planet split into at least three fragments that managed to reach the surface. To confirm the source of the event, NASA used the LRO probe located in an areocentric orbit. During the search, it actually managed to find three fresh craters that were missing from previous images of the region.

Craters left after the fall of fragments of the first body recorded by the Insight mission seismometer. Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizon

All the seismic vibrations of shock origin detected by InSight had a very small magnitude, not exceeding two points. For comparison, the most powerful recorded marsquake has a magnitude of 5 points. 

In search of missing meteorites

But, although the fluctuations detected by InSight cannot shed light on the internal structure of the Red Planet, they have a different value. Astronomers actively use the method of counting craters to date the age of the surface areas of celestial bodies. And InSight data can help determine the frequency of meteorites falling on Mars.

A collage showing the craters left after the fall of the other three meteorites recorded by the Insight mission seismometer. Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

The fact is that the Red Planet is adjacent to the asteroid belt and has a very weak atmosphere. In theory, this should lead to its constant bombardment. But until recently, researchers could not find traces of blows. According to the InSight mission support team, most of them were hidden by the noise produced by Martian winds. But now that researchers have managed to identify the characteristic seismic signature that occurs when celestial bodies fall, they will review the mission archive in search of similar events that could have gone unnoticed.

Recall that in the near future the InSight device will be forced to stop its work. The reason is a thick layer of dust accumulated on the surface of the probe’s solar panels. Because of it, it no longer had enough energy to continue its research. InSight is expected to stop communicating with Earth by the end of 2022.

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