According to a science paper released today, a small impact that occurred about 25 miles south from the InSight lander between February 21st and April 6, 2019 might have been detected by the spacecraft’s seismometer.
From the paper’s abstract:
During this time period, three seismic events were identified in InSight data. We derive expected seismic signal characteristics and use them to evaluate each of the seismic events. However, none of them can definitively be associated with this source. Atmospheric perturbations are generally expected to be generated during impacts; however, in this case, no signal could be identified as related to the known impact. Using scaling relationships based on the terrestrial and lunar analogs and numerical modeling, we predict the amplitude, peak frequency, and duration of the seismic signal that would have emanated from this impact. The predicted amplitude falls near the lowest levels of the measured seismometer noise for the predicted frequency. Hence it is not surprising this impact event was not positively identified in the seismic data.
Based on this data, they now think they will only be able to detect about two impacts per year with InSight’s seismometer, a decrease from the previous estimate of as many as ten.
Click for full image.
Cool image time! The image to the right, cropped and reduced to post here, was released today by the science team of the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). It shows a small Martian crater whose northern rim for some reason is flattened into a straight line. Such a crater is rare, since almost all craters rims are round, even in the case of a low angle impact. The cause is unknown, though there are theories. From the caption, written by Ingrid Daubar of the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory in Arizona:
One possibility is that there was a zone of joints or faults in the crust that existed before the impact. When the impact happened, the crater formed along the straight line of these faults. Something similar happened to Meteor Crater in Arizona. Our image doesn’t show any faults, but they could be beneath the surface.
Perhaps some sort of uneven collapse changed the shape of the crater. There are piles of material on the crater’s floor, especially in the northwest and northeast corners. If those piles fell down from the rim, why did it happen there and not in other places? This crater is near the size where larger craters start to show wall slumping and terraces, so this type of collapse could be occurring unevenly.
The crater is located in the southern cratered highlands of Mars, at about 32 degrees latitude. At that latitude, it is also possible that some past glacial activity could have misshapen this crater, though I have no idea how. The crater itself does not appear to have any glacial material in it.
Cool image time! A new image release from Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) takes a look at the impact process that created the crater Messier and its neighbor crater Messier A. The photo to the right, cropped to post here, shows both craters.
Take a close look at Messier A. It is actually a double crater itself. From the release:
Messier A crater, located in Mare Fecunditatis, presents an interesting puzzle. The main crater is beautifully preserved, with a solidified pond of impact melt resting in its floor. But there is another impact crater beneath and just to the west of Messier A. This more subdued and degraded impact crater clearly formed first.
Did these three craters happen as separate events. According to the data, it appears no. Instead, they might have all been part of a single rain of asteroids, all occurring in seconds.
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Cool image time! The image on the right, reduced in resolution to show here, is the highest resolution image that Cassini has taken of the Saturn moon Epimetheus, taken from only 9,300 miles away on February 21, 2017.
Epimetheus (70 miles or 113 kilometers across) is too small for its gravity to hold onto an atmosphere. It is also too small to be geologically active. There is therefore no way to erase the scars from meteor impacts, except for the generation of new impact craters on top of old ones.
Below is the inset at full resolution, showing several craters, with ponds of dust on their floor. Overall, the surface of this tiny moon looks soft. The craters are all shallow, as if any impact merely plunged into a blob of ice cream. Any ejecta from those impacts eventually rained back down, and then settled slowly in the moon’s low points, forming those ponds of dust.
In many ways this image is very revealing, as it shows what the early accretion process of any planetary body will look like. Nor is this unique. Earlier images taken of the asteroid Eros by the NEAR probe saw many of these same features, as have images of Saturn’s other small moons. In the early stages, new material gets absorbed easily because it finds it easy to bore into the body of the newly formed and not very dense planetary body. There isn’t much ejecta, and what there is doesn’t fly that far away so that it can settle back down on the surface and add to the new body’s total mass.
Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has confirmed the creation of a new crater on the Moon, the impact flash of which was spotted when it happened on September 11, 2013.
The before and after images not only identify the new ~112 foot wide crater, they also show ejecta effects surrounding the crater.
The uncertainty of science: New research suggests that, in general, Mars has always been too cold to harbor liquid water on its surface for long periods.
Mars’ atmosphere was probably never thick enough to keep temperatures on the planet’s surface above freezing for the long term, suggests research published today in Nature Geoscience1. Although the planet’s topography indicates that liquid water has flooded Mars in the distant past, evidence increasingly suggests that those episodes reflect occasional warm spells, not a consistently hospitable phase of the planet’s history.
The research does not say that liquid water never flowed on the Martian surface, only that such events were short-lived. They looked at craters and noted that the surface has impacts from meteorites that would not have survived to the surface had the atmosphere been thick enough for liquid water.
The research however did not address Mars’ relatively smooth northern hemisphere, where there are not a lot of craters and where some scientists think there might once have been a shallow ocean. If Mars never had liquid water for long periods, why does this area lack craters?
Using Cassini data scientists theorize that the lack of craters in the lowlands of Titan is because those lowlands were swamps that quickly erased the evidence.
The uncertainty of science: A new science paper, published Saturday in the Journal of Geophysical Research – Planets,, has found that there is much less water ice trapped in the permanently shadowed craters of the lunar poles than previously thought. From the abstract:
This means that all [permanently shadowed regions], except those in Shoemaker, Cabeus and Rozhdestvensky U craters, do not contain any significant amount of hydrogen in comparison with sunlit areas around them at the same latitude.
And from the paper’s conclusion:
[E]ven now the data is enough for definite conclusion that [permanently shadowed regions] at both poles are not reservoirs of large deposits of water ice.
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Another spectacular planetary science image, this time from Messenger orbiting Mercury. This close-up image of the hollows of Mercury only illustrates their mystery. The insert shows the context of the close-up image. These irregular sinks are here found on the mountain top ridge of an inner crater rim. Also, some but not all of the hollows have bright interiors.
Scientists have proposed that some form of impact melt process caused these hollows. At impact, the ground literally rippled like water when you toss a stone into a pool. Here, however, the molten ripples quickly froze, creating the inner and outer crater rim rings. To my untrained eye, the hollows look like collapse features where the surface hardened first, then collapsed when the molten inner material drained away as it became solid.
Why some hollows are bright, however, is not yet understood.
On August 25 Cassini did a close fly-by of the small Saturn moon Hyperion, getting as close as 15,500 miles. The mission has just released images from that fly-by.
Looks like a sponge, doesn’t it? This moon is small, only 168 miles across, which makes it about half the size of the asteroid Vesta that Dawn is presently orbiting. Why it is so peppered with craters is of course the big science question. I would guess this has something to do with the environment around Saturn, with its rings and the innumerable particles that come from it. Yet, other moons of Saturn are not as crater-filled, so there is obviously more to this than meets the eye.
This fly-by was the second closest of Hyperion that Cassini has done, the first passing over the the moon’s surface by only 310 miles. Because the irregularly-shaped moon’s rotation is more like a chaotic tumble, scientists could not predict what part of the surface they would see. To their luck the new images captured new territory.
Another fly-by is scheduled in only three weeks, on September 16, 2011. This time, however, the spacecraft won’t get as close, passing at a distance of about 36,000 miles.
Below the fold are two images released today, one from Dawn at Vesta and the other from Messenger at Mercury. What makes them interesting to me is that, though the surfaces of both Vesta and Mercury are crater-packed, there are definitely distinct differences between them that one can spot if you look closely, all highlighting the fundamentally different environments of both worlds.
First, the Vesta photograph. The image looks out past the asteroid’s horizon, showing clearly that this dwarf planet is not spherical, with the south pole depression that puzzles scientists just on the planet’s limb. The parallel long deep grooves that are associated with this depression can be seen on the right. Notice also that the inside walls of all the craters slope downward in a very shallow manner. This gives the impression that the impacts that formed these craters smashed into an almost beachlike sandy surface. Note too the that the center of some craters have what appear to be flat small “ponds,” a phenomenon seen by the spacecraft NEAR when it orbited the asteroid Eros. These ponds are not liquid, but are actually made up of fine-grained particles that settle in the hollows of the asteroid.
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The images from Dawn keep rolling in. The picture on the right, released two days ago, shows the asteroid’s terminator. What makes it intriguing is the weird looking crater near the bottom of the image. It appears to have formed at impact on the wall of a cliff, something that at first glance seems impossible.
This is what I think happened: The impactor sliced down the wall of the cliff, but because of Vesta’s low gravitational field the impact scar never collapsed downward, filling in.
I once wrote an article about asteroids for Astronomy where I described these objects as having the consistency of mashed potatoes and ice cream sundaes. This image illustrates this nicely. The asteroid’s weak gravitational field limits the density of its material, so that puffy strange formations such as this crater can form.
Above, an annotated version of the first orbital image, showing areas of the south pole never before seen.
From the press conference about the first Messenger images from Mercury orbit:
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Using Google Earth, a curator at an Italian museum has discovered a previously unknown, very young, and almost pristine impact crater hidden in the deserts of Egypt.