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On December 24, 2021, NASA's InSight lander recorded a magnitude 4 quake on Mars. At first, scientists had no idea what had caused the tremor. However, that changed in February 2022 when the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spotted a new crater on the Red Planet's surface. Researchers connected the dots from both missions and realized that a meteoroid had struck Mars.
The space rock is believed to be about 16 to 39 feet (5 to 12 meters) in diameter. The small rock would have burned up in Earth's atmosphere. However, the meteoroid easily pierced through the thin Martian atmosphere. The 492-foot (150 meters) wide and 70-foot (21 meters) deep crater it created is not the Red Planet's largest. But it is the biggest one formed since NASA scientists began observing Mars.
"It's unprecedented to find a fresh impact of this size," said Ingrid Daubar, who leads InSight's Impact Science Working Group. "It's an exciting moment in geologic history, and we got to witness it."
Even better, the space rock helped uncover huge chunks of ice buried near the Martian equator. Previous missions had found traces of ice at the planet's poles. But this is the first time ice has been found so close to the warm equator. The exciting findings were revealed in the journal Science on October 27, 2022.
"This is really an exciting result," said Lori Glaze, NASA's director of planetary science. "We know, of course, that there's water ice near the poles on Mars. But in planning for future human exploration of Mars, we'd want to land the astronauts as near to the equator as possible, and having access to ice at these lower latitudes, that ice can be converted into water, oxygen, or hydrogen. That could be really useful."
Resources: CNN.com, Science.org, NASA.gov