NASA: This is the weird sound of a meteoroid hitting Mars

Meteoroids make an unexpected sound when hitting Mars and they're useful for finding craters that reveal the planet's history.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer
Image: Shutterstock

NASA has released an audio clip of the sounds of space rocks smashing into the Red Planet captured by the Mars Insight lander's seismometer. 

Rather than a crash or boom, the sound of meteoroids hitting Mars is more like a "bloop", not unlike part of the Skype ringtone, that happens first when the meteoroid enters Mars' atmosphere, then when it explodes into pieces, and finally impacts the surface.

The sound was captured by Insight when a meteoroid struck Mars on September 5, 2021. It was the first of four confirmed meteoroids between 2020 and 2021 that InSight's seismometer has detected since landing on 2018.

Also: NASA's Perseverance rover continues its hunt for ancient life on Mars

Here's NASA's explanation for the space rocks that make a "bloop" sound: "After sunset, the atmosphere retains some heat accumulated during the day. Sound waves travel through this heated atmosphere at different speeds, depending on their frequency. As a result, lower-pitched sounds arrive before high-pitched sounds. An observer close to the impact would hear a "bang," while someone many miles away would hear the bass sounds first, creating a "bloop.""

InSight detected the seismic and audio waves from a distance of between 53 and 180 miles (85 and 290 kilometers) away. The lander was located in the Mars region called Elysium Planitia. 

Scientists calls space rocks 'meteoroids' before they hit the ground and 'meteorites' after they reach the ground.  

NASA scientists are using seismic and acoustic wave data from InSight to locate newly formed craters on Mars. 

"We analysed arrival times and polarization of seismic and acoustic waves to estimate impact locations, which were subsequently confirmed by orbital imaging of the associated craters," an international team of researchers note in a new paper on Nature Geoscience.

After estimating the impact site, NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter flew over the location to confirm the spots and took close-up images of the craters using its HiRISE (High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment) camera. 

InSight now has nearly four years of seismic data that scientists plan to explore – using newly confirmed seismic signatures – for other impact events that may have been obscured by noise from wind or by seasonal changes in the atmosphere. 

Scientists are using marsquakes to study the planet's crust, mantle and core. The four confirmed meteoroid impacts had a magnitude of under 2.0, giving them only enough to examine Mars' crust. A quake with a magnitude of 5, as happened in May 2022, can also expose details about the deeper mantle and core.  

France's space agency, the Centre National d'Études Spatiales, provided InSight's seismometer. It is capable of detecting seismic waves from thousands of miles away.

Also: NASA is sending a spacecraft to smash into an asteroid

The paper's lead author, Raphael Garcia of Institut Supérieur de l'Aéronautique et de l'Espace in Toulouse, France, explains that meteoroid impacts help determine the age of Mars' surface. Basically, the more impact craters observed, the older the surface.  

"Impacts are the clocks of the solar system. We need to know the impact rate today to estimate the age of different surfaces," said Garcia.

"We're learning more about the impact process itself," Garcia said. "We can match different sizes of craters to specific seismic and acoustic waves now."

Time is running out for scientists to use InSight due to dust buildup on its solar panels reducing power. Engineers believe the lander could shut down between October and January 2023. 

Editorial standards