NASA Spacecraft Record Major Meteor Strikes on Mars

Photos show impact craters almost 500 feet wide
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Oct 27, 2022 7:10 PM CDT
Major Meteor Strikes on Mars Are Documented by NASA
An image made available Thursday by NASA shows boulder-size blocks of water ice around the rim of an impact crater on Mars, as viewed from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The crater was formed Dec. 24, 2021, by a meteoroid strike in the Amazonis Planitia region.   (NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona via AP)

Two NASA spacecraft at Mars—one on the surface and the other in orbit—have recorded the biggest meteor strikes and impact craters yet. The high-speed barrages last December sent seismic waves rippling thousands of miles across Mars, the first ever detected near the surface of another planet, and carved out craters nearly 500 feet across, scientists reported Thursday in the journal Science. The larger of the two strikes churned out boulder-size slabs of ice, which may help researchers look for ways future astronauts can tap into Mars' natural resources, the AP reports.

The Insight lander measured the seismic shocks, while the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter provided stunning pictures of the resulting craters. Imaging the craters "would have been huge already," but matching it to the seismic ripples was a bonus, said co-author Liliya Posiolova of Malin Space Science Systems in San Diego. "We were so lucky." Mars' atmosphere is thin, unlike on Earth, where the thick atmosphere prevents most space rocks from reaching the ground, instead breaking and incinerating them. A separate study last month linked a recent series of smaller Martian meteoroid impacts with smaller craters closer to InSight, using data from the same lander and orbiter.

The impact observations come as InSight nears the end of its mission because of dwindling power, its solar panels blanketed by dust storms. InSight landed on the equatorial plains of Mars in 2018 and has since recorded more than 1,300 marsquakes. "It's going to be heartbreaking when we finally lose communication with InSight," said Bruce Banerdt of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the lander's chief scientist who took part in the studies. "But the data it has sent us will certainly keep us busy for years to come." The incoming space rocks were between 16 feet and 40 feet in diameter, said Posiolova. The impacts registered about magnitude 4.

(More Mars stories.)

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