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NASA Marslander captures impacts from 4 incoming meteoroids

A NASA lander on Mars has captured the vibrations and sounds of four meteoroids hitting the planet’s surface.

Scientists reported Monday that Mars InSight detected seismic and acoustic waves from a series of impacts in 2020 and 2021. A satellite orbiting the red planet confirmed the impact sites, as far as 180 miles (290 kilometers) from the lander.

Scientists are delighted by the detections – a first for another planet.

The first confirmed meteoroid exploded into at least three pieces, each leaving its own crater. An 11-second audio clip of this attack contains three “bloops,” as NASA calls them, one that sounds like metal flapping loudly in the wind here on Earth.

“After three years of waiting InSight to detect an impact, those craters looked beautiful,” Brown University’s Ingrid Daubar, a co-author of the research paper in the journal Nature Geoscience, said in a statement.

The InSight team expected to catch numerous meteoroid impacts, given Mars’ proximity to the asteroid belt and the planet’s thin atmosphere, which tends to keep rocks in space from burning up. But the lander’s French-built seismometer may have missed the impact because of the disturbing noise from the Martian wind or seasonal changes in the atmosphere. Now scientists know what to look for, according to NASA, likely resulting in a wave of detections.

“Impacts are the clocks of the solar system,” French lead author Raphael Garcia said in a statement from the Higher Institute of Aerospace in Toulouse. “We need to know today’s impact velocity to estimate the age of various surfaces.”

Launched in 2018, InSight has already detected more than 1,300 Marsquakes. The largest had a magnitude of 5 earlier this year. By comparison, the Marsquakes generated by the meteoroid impacts registered no more than a magnitude 2.

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