A colossal meteor hit Mars. Then NASA made an even bigger discovery.

A colossal meteor hit Mars.  Then NASA made an even bigger discovery.
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It wasn’t your average marsquake that the Insight Mars lander heard roaring through the Red Planet’s soil last Christmas Eve.

POT‘s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter apparently found the source of the rumble a couple of months later from its vantage point at space: A spectacular meteorite impact more than 2000 miles away near the equator of Mars, estimated to be one of the largest impacts observed on the neighboring planet.

But what excites scientists perhaps as much or more than the recorded seismic activity is what the meteor discovered when it crashed into Mars: Huge, rock-sized chunks of ice shot out of the crater. Until now, no underground ice had been found in this region, the warmest on the planet.

“This is a really exciting result,” said Lori Glaze, NASA’s director of planetary science, during a press conference on Thursday. “We know, of course, that there is water ice near the poles of Mars. But in planning future human exploration of Mars, we would like astronauts to land as close to the equator as possible, and have access to ice at these high latitudes.” lower, that ice can be converted to water, oxygen or hydrogen. That could be really useful.”

The discovery, recently published in two related studies in the journal Sciencesis kind of a grand finale for NASA’s Insight lander, which is losing power quickly. Scientists have estimated that they have four to eight weeks left before they lose contact with the lander. At that point, the mission will end.

For the past four years, Insight has studied over 1,000 marsquakes and compiled daily weather reports. has detected the planet large liquid core and helped map the internal geology of Mars.

Program leaders have prepared the public for this outcome for some time. As the spacecraft has sat on the surface of Mars, dust has accumulated on its solar panels. The red desert planet’s layers of sand have blocked the lightning it needs to convert into energy. The team has curtailed Insight’s operations to get as much science out of it as possible before the hardware breaks.

Insight lander gathering dust

As the Insight lander has sat on the surface of Mars, dust has accumulated on its solar panels.
Credit: NASA

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Then the team got a bit more bad news last month. A brutal dust storm swept across much of the southern hemisphere of Mars. Insight went from having around 400 watt-hours per Martian day to less than 300.

“Unfortunately, since this is so a big dust stormit’s actually put a lot of dust in the atmosphere and it’s pretty much reduced the amount of sunlight that gets to the solar panels,” said Bruce Banerdt, Insight principal investigator at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California.

But NASA thinks scientists will continue to learn a lot about past weather conditions on Mars and when and how the ice there was buried. the cool craterstretching 500 feet wide and just under 70 feet deep.

They are confident that the ice came from Mars and not from the meteorite, said Ingrid Daubar, a planetary scientist at Brown University who leads InSight’s impact science working group.

“An impact of this size would actually destroy the meteorite that came in to hit the surface,” he said. “We wouldn’t expect much, if anything, from the original impactor to survive this high-energy blast.”

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