InSight Detects an Impact for the First Time

These craters were formed by a Sept. 5, 2021, meteoroid impact on Mars, the first to be detected by NASA’s InSight.
September 19, 2022
CreditNASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona
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Craters formed by a meteoroid impact on Mars on Sept. 5, 2021
Figure A

The craters seen here in blue were formed by a meteoroid impact on Mars on Sept. 5, 2021. The impact was the first to be detected by NASA’s InSight mission; the image was taken later by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter using its High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera.

The initial impact itself created a small marsquake that was detected by InSight’s seismometer. The instrument recorded seismological data that showed the moment the meteoroid entered Mars’ atmosphere, its explosion into pieces in the atmosphere, and finally, the impact that created a series of at least three craters in the surface.

MRO then flew over the approximate site where the impact was “felt” to look for darkened patches of ground using its Context Camera. After finding this location, HiRISE captured the scene in color. The ground is not actually blue; this enhanced-color image highlights certain hues in the scene to make details more visible to the human eye – in this case, dust and soil disturbed by the impact.

Figure A is an annotated version of the image with three of the craters identified. Smaller craters that are not visible in HiRISE’s images were probably created as well.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California manages both InSight and MRO for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The University of Arizona, in Tucson, operates HiRISE, which was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., in Boulder, Colorado. The Context Camera was built by, and is operated by, Malin Space Science Systems in San Diego.

InSight is part of NASA’s Discovery Program, managed by the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Lockheed Martin Space in Denver built the InSight spacecraft, including its cruise stage and lander, and supports spacecraft operations for the mission.

A number of European partners, including France’s Centre National d'Études Spatiales (CNES) and the German Aerospace Center (DLR), are supporting the InSight mission. CNES provided the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) instrument to NASA, with the principal investigator at IPGP (Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris). Significant contributions for SEIS came from IPGP; the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (MPS) in Germany; the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zurich) in Switzerland; Imperial College London and Oxford University in the United Kingdom; and JPL. DLR provided the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3) instrument, with significant contributions from the Space Research Center (CBK) of the Polish Academy of Sciences and Astronika in Poland. Spain’s Centro de Astrobiología (CAB) supplied the temperature and wind sensors.