On Christmas Eve last year, the Insight Mars lander heard an earthquake blast through the surface of the red planet.
A few months later, NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter reportedly discovered the cause of the rumble from its perch in orbit: a magnificent meteor strike more than 2,000 miles away near Mars’ equator, which is thought to be one of the greatest impacts seen on the neighbouring planet.
But what the meteor discovered when it struck Mars — enormous, boulder-size shards of ice blasted out of the crater — has possibly astounded scientists as much as or more than the observed seismic activity. This area, the warmest on the globe, had not yet shown any evidence of underground ice.
During a news conference on Thursday, Lori Glaze, director of planetary science at NASA, remarked, “This is truly an exciting result.” “Of course, we are aware that Mars’ poles have water ice. With access to ice at these lower latitudes, which can be turned into water, oxygen, or hydrogen, we would want to place the astronauts as close to the equator as feasible while preparing for future human exploration of Mars. That might be really helpful.”
The discovery is somewhat of a grand finale for NASA’s Insight lander, which is quickly losing power and was just reported in two linked studies in the journal Science. Before losing communication with the lander, scientists believe they have four to eight weeks left. The mission will thereafter come to an end.
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Over the past four years, Insight has compiled daily weather reports and studied more than 1,000 marsquakes. It has helped map Mars’ internal geology and discovered the planet’s huge liquid core.
The public has been ready for this outcome for a while, according to programme leaders. Dust has gathered on the spacecraft’s solar panels while it has been parked on Mars’ surface. The photons that it needs to turn into energy are blocked out by the layers of dirt from the red desert world. To get as much work done before the hardware fails, the team has scaled back Insight’s activities.
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The crew then received some additional terrible news last month. Mar’s southern hemisphere was largely covered in a devastating dust storm. Less than 300 watt-hours were used on Insight every Martian day, down from roughly 400.
Bruce Banerdt, Insight’s principal investigator at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, said, “Unfortunately, since this is such a large dust storm, it’s actually put a lot of dust up into the atmosphere, and it has cut down the amount of sunlight reaching the solar panels by quite a bit.”
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But NASA thinks that the new crater, which is 500 feet broad and just under 70 feet deep, will continue to teach scientists a lot about the previous temperature conditions on Mars and when and how ice was deposited there.
According to Ingrid Daubar, a planetary scientist at Brown University and the head of InSight’s impact science working group, they are certain that the ice originated from Mars and not a meteor.
The meteorite that was intended to strike the earth would be destroyed by an impact of this scale, she claimed. We wouldn’t anticipate much of the original impactor to survive this high intensity explosion, if anything at all.