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NASA’s Mars lander captures strikes from 4 incoming space rocks

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

Scientists reported on Monday that Mars InSight had detected seismic and acoustic waves from a series of impacts in 2020 and 2021. A satellite orbiting the Red Planet confirmed the locations of the impacts, up to 180 miles away (290 kilometers) from the lander.

Scientists are delighted with 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 that strike includes three “bloops,” as NASA calls them, one resembling metal flapping loudly in the wind here on Earth.

“After three years of waiting for InSight to detect an impact, these craters were magnificent,” Ingrid Daubar of Brown University, co-author of the research paper in the journal Nature Geoscience, said in a statement.

The InSight team expected to detect many meteoroid strikes, given Mars’ proximity to the asteroid belt and the planet’s thin atmosphere, which tends to keep space rocks from burning up. But the lander’s French-built seismometer may have missed impacts due to extraneous noise from the Martian wind or seasonal changes in the atmosphere. Now scientists know what to look for, according to NASA, which will likely lead to increased detections.

“Impacts are the clocks of the solar system,” said French lead author Raphael Garcia in a statement from the Higher Institute of Aeronautics and Space in Toulouse. “We need to know the impact rate today to estimate the age of the different surfaces.”

Launched in 2018, InSight has already detected more than 1,300 Marchquakes. The largest measured magnitude 5 earlier this year. By comparison, March tremors generated by meteor impacts did not register more than magnitude 2.

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