NASA’s InSight Lander has recorded some exciting new data: The sounds of meteoroids impacting the surface of Mars. This is the first time that InSight has caught such an event, and the sound of a space rock slamming into the Red Planet is not quite what you’d expect.
The InSight Lander has quite literally kept its ear to the ground since landing on Mars in November 2018, as it records the Martian subsurface for any rumblings in the form of seismic waves. While InSight has been hard at work detecting marsquakesNASA’s Mars Exploration Program announced yesterday that the lander had detected its first meteoroid impacts, in the form of four rocks that slammed into Mars’ Elysium Planitia between 2020 and 2021.
This particular impact occurred on September 5, 2021, and the audio contains three notable moments. First, the meteoroid enters the atmosphere, then it breaks into at least three pieces, and finally impacts the surface. The sound of the event is less of an apocalyptic crash and more of a cartoonish bubble popping—a “bloop,” in NASA’s terminology. NASA said this bloop occurs due to an atmospheric effect where the low-pitched sounds arrive at InSight before the higher-pitched sounds.
NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter then confirmed the locations of the craters from this impact during a flyover. The orbiter used its High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera to take a picture of the three impact craters—though it’s possible that several more craters exist, they are likely too small to be captured by HiRISE. Additional impacts captured by InSight occurred on May 27, 2020, February 18, 2021, and August 31, 2021.
The seismic data generated from these impacts helps InSight continue to study the internal geologic structure of Mars. Since seismic waves move through different mediums at different speeds, InSight can help scientists paint an accurate picture of the evolution and current configuration Mars’ internal layers. The meteoroid impacts are an exciting new piece of data for InSight, which has detected over 1,300 marsquakes so far, according NASA—especially since the dust-covered lander is likely to end its mission on Mars later this year due to loss of power.