In a universe full of mysteries, our neighboring planet Mars houses a few of its own. The Red Planet has been a focal point of research for scientists worldwide, and the latest findings are nothing less than fascinating, revealing a daily dose of space basketball meteorites.

Under the expert leadership of scientists from ETH Zurich and Imperial College London, an international research team has unveiled a startling phenomenon: Mars experiences meteorite impacts nearly every day.

This discovery uses seismic data to estimate the global meteorite impact rate on Mars, revealing that meteoroids of a basketball’s size do a slam dunk on the planet almost daily.

Events and meteorites on Mars

The team has also managed to identify a new class of Mars quakes called Very High-Frequency (VF) events, triggered by these basketball-sized meteoroid strikes.

Starting their probe in December 2021, the experts found that Mars is subject to anywhere between 280 and 360 meteorite strikes each year. This creates impact craters that are over 8 meters in diameter.

To get to this conclusion, the team relied on seismic data collected from NASA’s InSight Mission to Mars. It seems our Martian neighbor enjoys a game of cosmic basketball more often than we thought, five times more, to be precise.

“To understand the inner structure of planets, we use seismology. This is because as seismic waves travel through or reflect off material in planets’ crust, mantle, and core, they change. By studying these changes, seismologists can determine what these layers are made of and how deep they are,” said study co-first author Dr Natalia Wojcicka, research associate at Imperial College London’s Department of Earth Science and Engineering.

“On Earth, you can more easily understand the inner structure of our planet by looking at data from seismometers placed all around the globe. However, on Mars there has been only one – SEIS. To better understand Mars’ inner structure, we need more seismometers distributed across the planet.”

Meteorites and the age of Mars

The initial estimates put the scale of meteorite impacts between two to 10 times higher than we previously expected, depending on the meteoroid’s size. This revelation comes courtesy of the research team at Brown University.

“It’s possible Mars is more geologically active than we thought, which holds implications for the age and evolution of the planet’s surface,” said lead researcher Dr. Ingrid Daubar, a planetary scientist at Brown.

“Our results are based on a small number of examples available to us, but the estimate of the current impact rate suggests the planet is getting hit much more frequently than we can see using imaging alone.”

In the quest to unlock Mars’ secrets, the team leveraged InSight’s highly sensitive onboard seismometer to identify new impact craters from meteoroids, which remained hidden from the orbit’s view.

Consequently, we might need to revise the current Martian cratering models. Does that make Mars younger or older we might wonder?

Space hazard or exciting opportunity?

The discovery of Mars and its meteorites could lead to a radical transformation in comprehending the Martian surface and the history of impacts other planets in our solar system have endured. This understanding is critical for predicting potential hazards that our future exploration missions to Mars could face.

The research team meticulously analyzed the seismic signals from InSight, cross-referencing them with the images taken by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The result? Pinpoint precision on when and where these cosmic basketball games occurred on Mars.

Study significance

“It’s possible that more events that InSight picked up during its mission were actually impacts,” said Dr. Daubar. “Next steps are to do more detailed orbital searches to try to confirm this using machine learning techniques. If we can confirm even more impacts, we might be able to find other seismic signals that were caused by impacts, too.”

The research was a collaborative effort carried out by a dedicated team from several prestigious institutions. These include Brown University, Institut Supérieur de l’Aéronautique et de l’Espace, University of Oxford, Imperial College London, U.S. Geological Survey, ETH Zurich, University of Arizona, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and Université Paris Cité.

As we prepare for future missions to the Red Planet, we can confidently say – with a little caution thrown in – that the court is set for a cosmic game of basketball.

The study is published in the journals Science Advances and Nature Astronomy.

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