Huge meteor hit Mars. Then NASA made an even bigger discovery.

The average earthquake that the Mars Insight rover heard was not a roar across the land of the Red Planet last Christmas Eve.

NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter apparently found the source of the bang two months after its space location: a stunning meteor strike more than 2,000 miles near Mars’ equator, estimated to be one of the largest impacts observed on the neighboring planet.

But what has impressed scientists, perhaps with as much or more seismic activity, is what the meteorite detected when it hit Mars – huge chunks of ice the size of a boulder that erupted from its crater. So far, underground ice has not been found in this region, the warmest part of the planet.

“This is a really exciting result,” NASA director of planetary sciences, Laurie Glaese, said during a Thursday news conference. “We know, of course, that there is water ice near the two poles of Mars. But in planning future human exploration of Mars, we would like to want to land the astronauts as close to the equator as possible, and get to the ice at these low latitudes, this can be transformed Ice into water, oxygen, or hydrogen. That might be really helpful.”

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NASA has just shown us why the Mars lander will soon run out of power

This finding, which was recently published in two linked studies in the journal Sciences, is something of the grand finale for NASA’s Insight lander, which is rapidly losing power. Scientists have estimated that they have approximately four to eight weeks left before they lose contact with the landing complex. At this point, the job will be over.

Over the past four years, Insight has studied over 1,000 earthquakes and compiled daily weather reports. He discovered the planet’s large liquid core and helped map the interior geology of Mars.

Program leaders have prepared the public for this outcome for some time. As the spacecraft sat on the surface of Mars, dust accumulated on its solar panels. Layers of grains from the Red Desert Planet blocked the rays they needed to convert into energy. The team scaled back Insight’s operations to squeeze as much science as possible before the devices went out of business.

As the InSight probe sat on the surface of Mars, dust accumulated on its solar panels
credit: NASA

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Then the team received more bad news last month. A severe dust storm swept most of the southern hemisphere of Mar. Insight shifted from about 400 watt-hours on a Sol day to less than 300.

“Unfortunately, because this is such a large dust storm, it actually put a lot of dust into the atmosphere, and it reduced the amount of sunlight reaching the solar panels quite a bit,” said Bruce Banerdt, principal investigator at Insight. At NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California.

But NASA believes scientists will continue to learn a lot about past climatic conditions on Mars and when and how ice was buried there from the new crater, which stretches 500 feet and 70 feet deep.

They are confident the ice came from Mars, not the meteorite, said Ingrid Dubar, a planetary scientist at Brown University who leads the impact science working group at Insight.

“A collision of this magnitude will destroy the meteorite that came to hit the surface,” she said. “We wouldn’t expect much, if anything, from the original collider to survive this high-energy explosion.”


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