Meteors and Mars


By Peter Jenniskens, Senior Research Scientist

I’ve found an indirect method for investigating meteor showers on Mars, and, in a way, making travel to Mars a little safer.

I run a video surveillance of the night sky - a project called “CAMS”- that maps out our nightly meteor showers here on Earth. Once I learn what asteroid or comet is responsible for a newly detected shower, I use the power of computers to generate a cloud of dust in the object's distant past, and calculate the evolution of that cloud forward to our time.

If this can confirm that the stream of meteoroids so generated can cause the meteor shower we see on Earth, then we can take a step back and marvels at the three-dimensional view of the dust cloud in the solar system.

Frequently, some streams we see as meteor showers on Earth also hit the atmosphere of Mars. Those meteoroids are millimeter-to-centimeter sized bullets that move at tens of miles per second. Even though the chances of being hit are small, travel to Mars becomes a little safer knowing where the hazard of encountering these is at its worst.