Something Violently Shook the Surface of Mars. It Came From Space.

Oct 27, 2022 · 52 comments
Casual Observer (Los Angeles)
Not a typical impact crater formation. The hole looks like Martian geology was composed of a deep loose material that largely fell back into the crater after the impact.
Blackmamba (IL)
Objects from outer space have bombarded our inner solar system for billions of years. But different atmospheres and tectonic activity on the inner solar system planets anf moons to preserve or erase that record. Mars has a much thinner atmosphere than Earth. Earth's tectonic plates and volcanism can erase the craters over time. Earth ran down the Chelyabinsk meteor that exploded in Earth's thick atmosphere. And something massive exploded over Siberia in 1908.
Susan Fitzwater (Ambler, PA)
Funny how these things work. Long ago--very long ago! --the skies were thought to be placid, immutable. Nothing went on up there! It was down here that stuff happened--volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, all that good stuff. Live and learn! I'd never heard of a "marsquake." But even as we study gigantic rocks pummeling the surface of the red planet-- --we're thinking of ourselves. I looked up "the Tunguska event" just now--back in 1908. Incredible! And a mercy that asteroid didn't hit Moscow or New York-- --only (truth to tell) it didn't hit anything. It blew up in midair. But Mars hasn't got much air. Rocks and stuff hammer it with impunity. Without burning up. I'm sorry about InSight--giving up at last. Winding down. But the technology! Contraptions that roam the solar system, finding out what they can--transmitting what they learn! --they leave me awestruck. More power to them! And more power to you, NASA! Keep it up.
Mr. S. (California)
Incredible!
Goodman Peter (NYC)
Maybe Santa’s sled rocketing off Mars on Christmas Eve …
DramaDoc (Jungleland)
They should fly Ingenuity over to InSight and let its rotors blow off the dust. :)
CARL BIRMAN (Schenectady, NY)
Really really neat article.
Jeffrey WP (Tampa)
Was Mark Watney barbecuing again?
CATango (Ventura)
Not to be self centered but what would an object like that do to earth should it make it through the atmosphere at the size that impacted Mars? Is that nuke analogy valid?
NL (NYC)
@CATango The atmosphere of Mars is 1% the density of Earth's atmosphere. Therefore, any asteroid penetrating to the Earth's surface would likely have been slowed by air friction. Kinetic energy = 1/2 mv^2, so any slowing of velocity results in a large decrement in impact energy.
Nick (St Louis)
@CATangoThe impact released the energy equivalent to somewhere between 2.5 and 10 kilotons of TNT, Dr. Posiolova said. (The atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima at the end of World War II was the equivalent of 15 kilotons of TNT.)
mr. davidson (Pittsburgh PA)
This is an odd coincidence that a few weeks after we blasted an asteroid with the intention of altering it's course another space collision is occuring.Science has stated that for every action there is a reaction.There's also the possibility that an alternate form of intelligence is sending a message to communicate on the fundamental basis of activity of some powers beyond our knowledge.
Cedric (Athens GA)
Why not use thin plastic film for a “roll off” like used on motocross goggles or the in-car camera in Formula 1 cars? Seems like a relatively simple solution to clear the solar panels.
Brunella (Brooklyn)
Amazing there are photos showing the meteor appear, from one day to the next — that’s a sizable rock! One question, why do scientists refer to planetary ice stirred up as “water ice,” what are they differentiating it from, substance wise (for us earthlings, who assume all ice is formed from water)?
Theresa (Minnesota)
Dry ice is frozen carbon dioxide, which has different chemical properties than ice made of water. That’s just one example.
Mary Kate (San Francisco, CA)
@Brunella Most of the ice on the outer planets is frozen methane rather than frozen water
Tino Volpe (Wrentham Ma)
@Brunella I think that is to distinguish between water ice, CO2 ice and methane ice, which can exist on other worlds that are much colder than earth
RocketScientist (Munich)
Naturally they don't celebrate christmas on Mars. I think it was Festivus, Mars version.
Doug (colorado)
"crater wider than a football field?" Ambiguous. Is the width of the crater wider than the length of a football field, or wider than the width of a football field?
Tino Volpe (Wrentham Ma)
@Doug Always assume length because just about everyone knows the length is 100 yards. Almost no one knows the width of a football field. I certainly don't
NL (NYC)
@Tino Volpe I have no idea what the length of a football field is, and I wouldn't assume that almost everyone does. The constant comparisons of large things to football fields is ridiculous.
MyTwoCents (New York)
How inspiring to read the names of so many scientists in so many different institutions and countries working in this exploration. Nice antidote to all the bad stuff news seems to be emphasizing beyond what is reasonable or healthy these days….
ChrisMas (Sedona)
“…the spacecraft is dying because of dust piling up on its solar panels, cutting off its energy supply.” Seems like a miss, like building a (very expensive!) car without windshield wipers and then calling it a total loss when the windshield gets dirty.
Tino Volpe (Wrentham Ma)
@ChrisMas The later models run on electricity generated from radioactive fuel so, an improvement.
JohnG (Lansing, NY)
Great article about wonderful work: exciting observations and inferences about the planet. I do wonder why the solar panels on the lander weren't provided with a way to clean them- perhaps with a simple bottle of pressurized gas to blow dust off?
Patriot (USA)
Extreme risk of meteor impacts due to no atmosphere. And we want to set up colonies there which could wiped out in an instant?
Derek (Iowa)
The before and after satellite photos need to be explained. It looks like there's a huge smoldering crater in both photos; I assume that's not the case. There's also a little black mark in the "after" photo, is that significant or did Trump use his magic marker again?
Tino Volpe (Wrentham Ma)
@Derek Black mark in the after photo is the new crater!!
JDH (California)
While revealing ice, this impact seems to also highlight the danger to future settlements opportunities. Heads up!
Garth (Louisiana)
I have a question: It seems that two of the photos are described as being "before and after" images that "revealed scars of a recent meteor strike." The only difference I see between the two images is a black object(?) near the middle of the photo. If I'm seeing this correctly and the scars appear in both images, why the before and after photos? And what is the black thing?
JoeG (Houston)
@Garth I zoomed in on it and it looks like a deep crater hidden by shadow.
NL (NYC)
@Garth The black object is the impact crater.
Richard Conn Henry (Baltimore)
What a fabulous result! I think, if I recall aright, that at first it was thought to indicate more activity inside Mars. But now we know: Mars is dead as a dodo.
R (D.C.)
Super interesting. Great science. Thanks for publishing.
Dexter Ford (Manhattan Beach, CA)
"Once InSight shuts down, there again will not be any seismometers operating elsewhere in the solar system." Really? In that case, either there are no seismometers on Earth, or Earth is no longer in the solar system.
Everybody's Talking (USA)
@Dexter Ford Good catch. But after all, if you consider that we are very much an earth centric species, that could easily imply "elsewhere", from here.
Ron B (Boston)
Mark Watney had an air hose, which he used to clear off the solar panels at the base. Maybe he could come by to clear these off.
The Grey (NYC)
A wiper blade made of silicone (like the kinds used on cars) on a motorized belt to slowly push the accumulated dust on a regular interval would be easier to implement than blowers or other fancy ways of dust removal. There is a Chinese company called SoEasy that designs and manufactures robotic wipers on tracks for both commercial and residential panels in remote areas and hard to reach locations for a reasonable price and I'm sure the engineers at space agencies can figure out a simplified way to implement this for long haul rover and orbiter missions.
Tino Volpe (Wrentham Ma)
@The Grey Remember that every ounce counts when building a spacecraft you are sending 60 million miles away. Also the more parts the more things to break and go wrong. These craft are super complicated as it is so scientists are both trying to do the most and the least with the envelope they have to work with, size and weight.
Ben (Miami, Fl)
A bit confused by the apparent contradiction of "no tectonic activity on Mars" and the existence of a "tectonic area" in the following paragraph. Was there once tectonic activity that no longer happens? How is there a "tectonic area" when there is zero tectonic activity? Agree with other commenter, there should be a mechanical method of cleaning the solar panels, using some of the energy from the panels, integrated into future designs.
James (Colorado)
They outline there is less tectonic activity than on earth, and that this is not due to plate tectonic, but to the planet’s crust continuously cooling. Basically a giant rock getting really cold will crack continuously over time, causing mild seismic activity
Nokomis (UK)
Why not a Blower? That kicks in when the batteries deplete to a certain level and switches off when they start recharging.
uwteacher (colorado)
@Nokomis I suspect the thin atmosphere might make that unworkable. My thought was something like the dust cleaning on some DSLR cameras.
Goat (The West)
@uwteacher Yeah, atmospheric pressure on Mars is pretty low (.095 psi), which for reference, is lower than on earth, at 100,000 ft (.162 psi). Technically, with enough power you could compress that to a suitable pressure for a compressed 'air' blower, but I'm guessing that was simply not feasible. Then again, that air pressure is practically vacuum, so conventional methods of atmospheric compression may not work.
JOHN (San Francisco, CA)
@Goat Send along a canister of compressed gas?
Frank Talarico MD (PDX)
The first crew to land on the moon brought a seismograph developed by Dr. Ewing and his staff at Lamont Doherty. We should not forget that the work of these pioneers done over 50 years ago is still used to solve planetary mysteries.
kwb (Cumming, GA)
Fine mineral particles like dust have a tendency to be charged and hence act like magnets. I suspect those covering the panels would be sticky and somewhat resistant to removal.
Gil Narro Garcia (Harpers Ferry, WV)
Indeed, a vibration device, or a fan, or even a robotic vacuum, though, in a vacuum, perhaps not. Perhaps, a shaking mechanism like dogs do to shake off water. Still, do something next time!
L (Manoa)
It seems like an amazing oversight to me that no method of clearing the dust off the solar panels was included in the design of the lander. NASA has shown over and over that it can build devices that will operate for a very long time... so why not design as light weight as possible a dust removing device for the solar panels? Why let a perfectly good machine go cold because of lacking something so potentially necessary?
SteveRR (CA)
@L Every KG that goes into building a panel cleaner would have nixed an experiment or sensor. In the past, wind gusts or dust devils have cleaned them but they have not been in the right place and right time. The earlier ones Curiosity and Perseverance — are still going strong thanks to nuclear power. But we all hate nuclear - right?
George McIlvaine (Little Rock, Arkansas)
@L. It was not an oversight — it was a decision based on the experience of multiple previous missions and the best judgment of the mission team. Hindsight is 20/20.
Robert (Dallas)
@SteveRR No, it wouldn't necessarily nix anything. Design for it. Far heavier probes have been landed on Mars. InSight doesn't represent a limit. What ever the development would cost would be trivial compared to the cost of sending another probe with clean panels to continue the work.
Latest
See also