The 40-foot meteor would have disintegrated in Earth’s atmosphere , NASA estimates .
NASA scientists studying Mars were pleasantly surprised when they perceived the impact of a meteorite on the so-called red planet.
The phenomenon was recorded on December 24, 2021, when the impact caused jolts of magnitude 4 on the Martian surface.
These were detected thanks to the Insight probe and its seismometer, which landed on Mars almost four years ago, about 3,500 kilometers from the impact site.
But the origin of this Martian tremor was only confirmed when the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) , in orbit around the planet, took images of the newly formed crater less than 24 hours later.
The impressive image shows blocks of ice that were projected on the surface and a crater about 150 meters in diameter and 20 meters deep, the largest observed since the commissioning of the MRO orbiter 16 years ago.
Even though meteorite impacts are not uncommon on Mars , “we would never have thought we would see something this big,” Ingrid Daubar, of the Insight and MRO mission team, told a news conference on Thursday.
The researchers estimate that the meteorite must have been about 12 meters, which on Earth would have disintegrated in the atmosphere.
“It is simply the largest impact on the surface of a meteorite that has been heard since science has seismographs or seismometers,” Philippe Lognonné, a professor of planetology who participated in two studies resulting from these observations and which were published , explained to AFP . Thursday in the journal Science .
NASA also obtained an audio
NASA also released the audio recording of the earthquake, obtained by speeding up the vibrations picked up by the seismometer to make them audible.
The presence of ice, in particular, was described as “surprising” by Daubar. “It’s the hottest spot on Mars , the closest to the equator, where ice has ever been seen.”
In addition, it is of scientific interest for the study of the Martian climate because the presence of ice in these latitudes could be “very useful” for future explorers, said Lori Glaze, director of planetary sciences at NASA .
The information collected should allow us to refine our knowledge of the interior of Mars and the history of its formation.
The Insight probe has detected more than 1,300 tremors on Mars, some caused by smaller meteorites.