Analysis of meteorite strike on Mars reveals new information about planet

© NASA / JPL-Caltech/ Université d'Arizona / AFP

Scientists who study Mars on Thursday revealed the remarkable Christmas gift they received from the planet last year.

On December 24, 2021, a meteorite hit Mars' surface, triggering magnitude 4 tremors, which were detected by NASA's InSight spacecraft -- which landed on the planet four years ago -- some 2,200 miles (3,500 kilometers) away.

The true origin of this so-called marsquake was only confirmed when the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) was able to take a picture of the newly formed crater created by the hit when it flew over the impact site less than 24 hours later.

The image is impressive, showing blocks of ice that were spewed up onto the planet's surface around the 492-foot (150-meter) wide and 70-foot (21-meter) deep hole.

The crater is the largest ever observed since the MRO began its Mars orbit 16 years ago.

And though meteorite impacts on Mars are not rare, "we never thought we'd see anything that big," Ingrid Daubar, who works on the InSight and MRO missions, told reporters at a press conference Thursday.

Researchers estimate that the meteorite itself would have measured between 16 to 39 feet across. An object of that size would have disintegrated in Earth's atmosphere before falling to the ground here.

"It is simply the biggest meteorite impact on the ground that we have heard since science has been done with seismographs or seismometers," said planetology professor Philippe Lognonne, who participated in two studies related to the observation published in the journal Science Thursday.

The presence of ice, in particular, is "surprising," said Daubar, who also co-authored the two studies.


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