Associate Professor Katarina Miljkovic and PhD student Andrea Rajšić formed part of the team that published a paper on the craters, which were located with orbital imaging and seismometers.
The craters, which both measure over 130 metres in diameter, were first picked up by the seismometers deployed by NASA’s InSight mission, which were operating in the second half of 2021.
Large-scale seismic activity was detected by the devices and signalled the initial impacts of the meteorites, with the seismometers first hearing the “bang” as the meteorites passed through the atmosphere, and then another stronger detection as they impacted the surface.
The impacts were so significant that they penetrated deep into the planet, causing “Mars-quakes” and exposing ice at the lowest altitude ever observed on the red planet.
These quakes are so far the only known instance of meteorites generating seismic activity on Mars.
Following their initial detection with the seismometers, the team used the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter to pinpoint the location of the craters.
Miljkovic spoke about the relatively rare nature of the event the team managed to witness.
“Impact events happen all the time on both Earth and Mars, but generally involve small rocks from space that only graze the atmosphere. On occasion, we get impacts that can penetrate deeper into the atmosphere to form a noticeable bang in the atmosphere or on the ground, which was the case here,” Miljkovic said.
Rajšić also commented on the significance of the seismic activity observed by the team.
“There are not that many large quakes detected on Mars, whether they be driven by interior geological forces or in this case, external impacts, but when they do occur, they help with deep-interior mapping of Mars.
“Impact events are extremely helpful in seismology because they can be considered as a constrained seismic source with a known location. This is a fantastic way to peek into the interior structure of the Red Planet,” Rajšić said.
The team’s research, published in the journal Science, demonstrates the benefits of a combined approach to researching the Red Planet. By using the resources and data sources available to both the InSight mission and the Orbiter mission, the team was able to gather significantly more data.
Miljkovic added that the research the team had conducted would inform future research on several topics.
“This knowledge is useful for many reasons, from the potential future habitation of Mars by humans and their ability to locate water as a resource to the fundamental understanding of the structure of Mars as a planet. If we are to understand the formation and evolution of our own planet, we ought to understand other terrestrial planets too.”
Liam McAneny is a journalist who has written and edited for his University International Relations journal. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts (International Relations) and Bachelor of Laws from the University of Wollongong in 2021. He joined Momentum Media in 2022 and currently writes for SpaceConnect and Australian Aviation. Liam has a keen interest in geopolitics and international relations as well as astronomy.
Send Liam an email at: [email protected]
Receive the latest developments and updates on Australia’s space industry direct to your inbox. Subscribe today to Space Connect here.