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NASA confirms massive meteoroid behind huge Mars crater, earthquake

Scientists at NASA have determined that a large meteoroid strike was the cause of a magnitude 4 earthquake on Mars, causing a massive crater in the Red Planet's surface. Photo courtesy of NASA
1 of 2 | Scientists at NASA have determined that a large meteoroid strike was the cause of a magnitude 4 earthquake on Mars, causing a massive crater in the Red Planet's surface. Photo courtesy of NASA

Oct. 28 (UPI) -- Scientists at NASA have determined that a large meteoroid strike was the cause of a magnitude 4 earthquake on Mars.

The meteor strike is one of the biggest ever seen on the Red Planet since the agency began space exploration, according to the findings published Thursday in the journal Science.

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NASA's InSight lander felt the ground shake when the quake hit on Dec. 24, 2021, but scientists were not aware of what caused it until recently.

Cameras on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter first returned visual confirmation of the massive crater. Scientists compared before and after images taken by the orbiter and spotted the huge impact crater in the more-recent shots.

The impact of the meteoroid excavated boulder-size chunks of ice buried closer to the planet's equator than ever found before. That discovery has implications for future plans to send astronauts to Mars, according to NASA.

The crater measures approximately 492 feet across and 70 feet deep. Some of the debris from the impact was ejected as far as 23 miles away.

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"It's unprecedented to find a fresh impact of this size. It's an exciting moment in geologic history, and we got to witness it," Ingrid Daubar of Brown University, who leads InSight's Impact Science Working Group said in a statement.

Images along with the seismic data collected from the InSight lander led researchers to believe this marks one of the largest craters ever witnessed forming any place in the solar system.

Larger craters do exist on Mars but predate any space missions to the planet.

The meteoroid is estimated to have spanned 16 to 39 feet. At that size, it would have burned up in Earth's atmosphere, but Mars' thin atmosphere let it pass through and hit the surface.

The Red Planet's atmosphere is just 1% as dense as Earth's.

The timing was fortuitous. The InSight lander's solar panels are covered in dust, dramatically reducing its power. The spacecraft is now expected to shut down within the next six weeks, ending its mission.

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