Measurement of the meteoroid flux at Mars

A. Domokos, J. F. Bell, P. Brown, M. T. Lemmon, R. Suggs, J. Vaubaillon, W. Cooke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


In the fall of 2005, a dedicated meteor observing campaign was carried out by the Panoramic Camera (Pancam) onboard the Mars Exploration Rover (MER) Spirit to determine the viability of using MER cameras as meteor detectors and to obtain the first experimental estimate of the meteoroid flux at Mars. Our observing targets included both the sporadic meteoroid background and two predicted martian meteor showers: one associated with 1P/Halley and a potential stream associated with 2001/R1 LONEOS. A total of 353 images covering 2.7 h of net exposure time were analyzed with no conclusive meteor detections. From these data, an upper limit to the background meteoroid flux at Mars is estimated to be < 4.4 × 10-6  meteoroids km-2 h-1 for meteoroids with mass larger than 4 g. For comparison, the estimated flux to this mass limit at the Earth is 10-6  meteoroids km-2 h-1 [Grün, E., Zook, H.A., Fechtig, H., Giese, R.H., 1985. Icarus 62, 244-272]. This result is qualitatively consistent, within error bounds, with theoretical models predicting martian fluxes of ∼ 50 % that at Earth for meteoroids of mass 10-3 - 101  g [Adolfsson, L.G., Gustafson, B.A.S., Murray, C.D., 1996. Icarus 119, 144-152]. The MER cameras, even using the most sensitive mode of operation, should expect to see on average only one coincident meteor on of order 40-150 h of total exposure time based on these same theoretical martian flux estimates. To more meaningfully constrain these flux models, a longer total integrated exposure time or more sensitive camera is needed. Our analysis also suggests that the event reported as the first martian meteor [Selsis, F., Lemmon, M.T., Vaubaillon, J., Bell, J.F., 2005. Nature 435, 581] is more likely a grazing cosmic ray impact, which we show to be a major source of confusion with potential meteors in all Pancam images.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)141-150
Number of pages10
Issue number1
StatePublished - Nov 2007
Externally publishedYes


  • Cosmic rays
  • Image processing
  • Instrumentation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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