When you think of a speeding space rock crashing into a planet, you might think of a clangorous and shaking sound. But according to new audio from NASA, it turns out that when it comes to a meteoroid hitting Mars, it’s more of a “bloop” than a “boom.”
NASA has been working on getting the sound for years. The space agency’s InSight lander, located on Mars since 2018, picked up seismic waves from four different moments from 2020 to 2021 when a space rock crashed into the red planet. Not only did the data provide an exciting new look atand the inner workings of space, but it also marked the first time that seismic and acoustic activity from an impact has been detected on Mars, NASA said.
The first time they were able to capture the sounds and quakes associated with a crash was on Sept. 5, 2021. This instance was the first time scientists detected acaused by a space rock and the first time in general that seismic signals from the impact of a meteoroid have been detected on another planet.
It also happened to be the most “dramatic” of the crashes measured, NASA said, as the meteoroid exploded into at least three shards that each made a crater on Mars.
The three “bloop” sounds heard in the middle of the above audio are what tell the story of the crash – the moment the meteoroid bursts through Mars’ atmosphere, its explosion and the moment it crashes onto Mars’ surface.
And why does it give off a quirky noise rather than a deafening smash? NASA says it’s because of a “peculiar” effect from Mars’ atmosphere that happens when bass sounds arrive before those that are higher-pitched.
After making this discovery, NASA was able to go back through previously recorded data and found three other confirmed meteoroid crashes — on May 27, 2020, Feb. 18, 2021 and Aug. 31, 2021.
All of the crash sites were between 53 and 180 miles away from the InSight lander and produced small quakes with magnitudes of no more than 2.0, according to the agency, whose findings were published in Nature Geoscience on Monday.
And while they were only able to confirm four space rock crash landings with the data, scientists expect there have been many more given Mars’ location and composition. The planet is next to the solar system’s primary asteroid belt, NASA said, making a collision with asteroids all the more likely. And because the planet’s atmosphere is just 1% as thick as Earth’s, more space rocks are able to go through it without disintegrating and crashing onto the surface.
There’s also the data.
InSight’s seismometer has captured more than 1,300 marsquakes up to thousands of miles away in its few years on the red planet. The instrument’s team thinks it’s because that other conditions, such as wind noise or seasonal atmospheric changes, prevent them from detecting the waves of other collisions.
Getting more seismic data is a priority for Mars teams, as it can help scientists determine the age of the planet’s surfaces. The more craters there are in an area, the older that particular surface is, NASA said.
“Impacts are the clocks of the solar system,” lead study author Raphael Garcia said. “We need to know the impact rate today to estimate the age of different surfaces.”