Martian meteorite impacts reveal new information about the red planet

The new data gathered from Mars's interior provides clues on how the planet formed, and how it has changed over the millenia.

 First observation of surface waves on Mars reveals details of planet’s crust. (photo credit: CHRISTIAN BOHM, DOYEON KIM, MARTIN VAN DRIEL)
First observation of surface waves on Mars reveals details of planet’s crust.
(photo credit: CHRISTIAN BOHM, DOYEON KIM, MARTIN VAN DRIEL)

A meteorite impact on the planet Mars may have revealed new information regarding the crust of the planet, which is being studied by researchers who work at the Marsquake Service at ETH Zürich in Switzerland.

The researchers were waiting for an event that would generate waves across Mars's surface before the meteorite impacted the planet on December 24 of last year - which produced the surface waves that the researchers needed. Their findings were published in the journal Science on Thursday evening. 

The surface waves on Mars provide more information to researchers about the Martian crust's structure.

The researchers have been using NASA's InSight mission’s seismometer to analyze the planet. The researchers also contacted colleagues that worked with the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter probe - which took photos around the time of the meteorite impact that showed a large impact crater of about 3,500 kilometers from InSight.

However, using InSight from just 7,500 kilometers away, the meteorite impact was able to be pinpointed by researchers as the source of a second atypical quake.

Cerberus Fossae system in Elysium Planitia near Martian equator. (credit: ESA/DLR/FU BERLIN)Cerberus Fossae system in Elysium Planitia near Martian equator. (credit: ESA/DLR/FU BERLIN)

The Martian crust between the impact sites and data gathered by InSight’s seismometer showed that the planet has high density - to which researchers incorrectly hypothesized that Mars had a low density based on three crust layers.

Why is this important?

Researchers say that the new data gathered from Mars's interior provides clues on how the planet forms and changes. This also may offer new insight into the sharp contrasts between Mars's northern and southern hemispheres, the former having flat, volcanic lowlands and the latter being a plateau covered by meteorite craters.

Doyeon Kim, the lead author of the study and a geophysicist and senior research scientist at ETH Zurich, said that "the location was a good match with our estimates for the source of the quake. The seismic waves traveled through the planet's interior during the quake which provides information about Mars's core and mantle.

“This is the first-time seismic surface waves have been observed on a planet other than Earth," he continued. "Not even the Apollo missions to the Moon managed it."

“This is the first-time seismic surface waves have been observed on a planet other than Earth."

Doyeon Kim