The sound of a meteorite impacting Mars was captured by NASA’s InSight lander, marking the first time seismic signals from a meteorite impact on another planet have been detected.
The InSight lander was sent to Mars in 2018 to detect so-called “marsquakes,” in this case seismic activity taking place beneath the red planet’s surface. But its highly sensitive detection tool also caught a meteorite impacting the surface of Mars last year, and you can hear it in the video below.
A new paper published this week in Nature Geoscience reports the impact that took place on September 5, 2021.
In fact, there were three separate impacts as the space rock exploded in three pieces as it struck the Martian atmosphere.
According to the data, the meteoroids impacted the Martian surface between 53 and 180 miles (85 and 290 kilometers) from the InSight site.
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which oversees InSight’s mission, said the audio of one of the hits sounded like a “bloop” due to “a particular atmospheric effect heard when bass tones arrive before high tones.”
It states: “After sunset, the atmosphere retains some heat accumulated during the day. Depending on the frequency, sound waves move through this heated atmosphere at different speeds. As a result, lower tones arrive before high tones. An observer close to the impact would hear a “pop” while someone many miles away would hear the bass sounds first, creating a “bloop.”
After pinpointing the exact impact locations, NASA used the High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on its Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter to get a close-up color image of the craters.
HiRISE sees wavelengths that the human eye can’t see, so scientists change the camera’s filters to improve the color of the image. “The areas that appear blue around the craters are areas where dust has been removed or stirred up by the impact explosion,” NASA said. “Martian dust is bright and red, so removing it makes the surface appear relatively dark and blue.”
While detecting meteorite impacts is an exciting development for the InSight team, the lander’s primary mission has been to detect marsquakes, with its sensors having detected more than 1,300 since it became operational in 2018. It was recognized in May the strongest earthquake ever recorded on another planet.
Unfortunately, InSight will also soon cease operations a gradual accumulation of dust on its solar panels prevents it from collecting enough electricity to operate effectively.
Still, the InSight team has plenty of data from the mission, which they consider a great success.
In fact, the team is still searching through much of it, in part hoping to find evidence of other meteorite impacts it may have missed. It said other impacts may have been obscured by wind noise or seasonal changes in the atmosphere, but now that it has a better understanding of the characteristic seismic signature of a rock hitting Mars, it’s confident of finding more examples of meteorite impacts further analysis of previous data from InSight.