Predicted detection rates of regional-scale meteorite impacts on Mars with the InSight short-period seismometer

N. A. Teanby*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

32 Citations (Scopus)
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In 2016 NASA will launch the InSight discovery-class mission, which aims to study the detailed internal structure of Mars for the first time. Short- and long-period seismometers form a major component of InSight's payload and have the potential to detect seismic waves generated by meteorite impacts. Large globally detectable impact events producing craters with diameters of ~100m have been investigated previously and are likely to be rare (Teanby, N.A., Wookey, J. [2011]. Phys. Earth Planet. Int. 186, 70-80), but smaller impacts producing craters in the 0.5-20m range are more numerous and potentially occur sufficiently often to be detectable on regional scales (≤ 1000km). At these distances, seismic waves will have significant high frequency content and will be suited to detection with InSight's short-period seismometer SEIS-SP. In this paper I estimate the current martian crater production function from observations of new craters (Malin, M.C. et al. [2006]. Science 314, 1573-1577; Daubar, I.J. et al. [2013]. Icarus 225, 506-516), model results (Williams, J.P., Pathare, A.V., Aharonson, O. [2014]. Icarus 235, 23-36), and standard isochrons (Hartmann, W.K. [2005]. Icarus 174, 294-320). These impact rates are combined with an empirical relation between impact energy, source-receiver distance, and peak seismogram amplitude, derived from a compilation of seismic recordings of terrestrial and lunar impacts, chemical explosions, and nuclear tests. The resulting peak seismogram amplitude scaling law contains significant uncertainty, but can be used to predict impact detection rates. I estimate that for a short-period instrument, with a noise spectral density of 10<sup>-8</sup>ms<sup>-2</sup>Hz<sup>-1/2</sup> in the 1-16Hz frequency band, approximately 0.1-30 regional impacts per year should be detectable with a nominal value of 1-3 impacts per year. Therefore, small regional impacts are likely to be a viable source of seismic energy for probing Mars' crustal and upper mantle structure. This is particularly appealing as such impacts should be easily located with orbital imagery, increasing their scientific value compared to other types of events with unknown origins. Finally, comparison of the empirical results presented here with the modelling study of Teanby and Wookey (Teanby, N.A., Wookey, J. [2011]. Phys. Earth Planet. Int. 186, 70-80) provides constraints on the seismic efficiency, suggesting that values of ~5×10<sup>-4</sup> may be appropriate for impact generated seismic waves. Comparing explosion and impact datasets indicate that buried explosions are ~10 times more efficient at generating seismic waves than impacts.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)49-62
Number of pages14
Early online date16 Apr 2015
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2015


  • Cratering
  • Geophysics
  • Impact Processes
  • Interiors
  • Mars


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