Impact crater on Mars

Here’s a Fresh, Never Before Seen Impact Crater on Mars

Article Updated: 23 Dec , 2015
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The surface of Mars is a well worn place in the Solar System, heavily pounded by countless meteor impacts. And some of these craters are hundreds of millions of years old. So it’s unusual for there to be a completely fresh impact on the surface of Mars: but that’s just what NASA scientists discovered looking through a recent batch of images returned from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

You’re looking at an image taken by the Mars Context Camera, an instrument on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. In an older photograph taken of the region in February 2012, there was just a bunch of old craters. And then, in the newer image, taken June 2014, this fresh scar on the surface of Mars is clearly visible.

No crater... then crater. Credit: NASA/JPL/UA

No crater… then crater. Credit: NASA/JPL/UA

The crater itself is circular, but the blast of ejecta indicates that the object came in from the West, and struck the surface of Mars, blasting out a curtain of pulverized rock that covered the nearby surface. The impactor would have vaporized into a fireball of superheated rock, like a nuclear bomb exploding on the surface of Mars, while the eject blanket was shot out to the side.

This isn’t the first time spacecraft have detected new craters on Mars. In fact, the largest new crater discovered was half the length of a football field. And so far, researchers have turned up more than 400 new craters on the surface of Mars.

The Mars Context Camera has completely imaged the entire surface of Mars at least once during its 7-year mission. And with multiple passes, planetary scientists are starting to build up a picture of how the dynamic the surface of Mars can really be.

Largest new crater ever discovered. Credit: NASA/JPL

Largest new crater ever discovered. Credit: NASA/JPL/UA

And of course, planetary scientists have discovered fresh craters on other locations in the Solar System. NASA’s Lunar Impact Monitoring Program turned up a bright meteoroid impact on March 17, 2013, and follow on observations by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter turned up the impact location. The monitoring program has actually turned up more than 300 impacts so far. So if you’re walking around on the Moon, watch your head.

Bright impact flash made by a foot-wide rock that struck the moon on March 17, 2013. The moon was a crescent in the evening sky at the time. The impact occurred in the dark, earthlit part of the moon away from the sun-lit crescent. Click photo to see video about the event. Credit: NASA

Bright impact flash made by a foot-wide rock that struck the moon on March 17, 2013. The moon was a crescent in the evening sky at the time. The impact occurred in the dark, earthlit part of the moon away from the sun-lit crescent. Credit: NASA

Left: Fresh material brought to the surface makes the new 59-foot-wide crater look like it was spray painted white. Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University. Right: The meteoroid strike occurred near the familiar crater Copernicus in the Sea of Rains (Mare Imbrium). Credit: Bob King

Left: Fresh material brought to the surface makes the new 59-foot-wide crater look like it was spray painted white. Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University. Right: The meteoroid strike occurred near the familiar crater Copernicus in the Sea of Rains (Mare Imbrium). Credit: Bob King

Source: NASA/JPL News Release


5 Responses

  1. Aqua4U says:

    I’ve almost finished building a f3.4 12 1/2″ Newtonian telescope and mount. I shipped the mirror out for coating yesterday morning! I’ve always wanted to monitor the moon for impacts! Now I will!

    • Tim Reyes says:

      Wow. Did you grind your own mirror or just re-surfacing one? That is a pretty fast system too f/3.4. Requires a lot of accuracy in the mirror surface. Send a photo when done.

  2. TedH says:

    We shouldn’t be surprised at all: how many “rocks” hit the Earth every day? So it’s just logic that the others get their fair share as well.
    Because “the others” are so far away and just at that critical moment no telescope points to the right spot… we miss most of these impacts. Therefore we think “What a boring space!”, turn around to grab a beer and…. miss the next one 😉
    It was the same kind of thinking (in the past) when it came to extra-solar planets…. “Ridiculous, there are no planets!! – Show me one!” Now these voices went silent 😉
    What else unexpected is out there… waiting to be discovered by an “open mind / eye”?

    • mewo says:

      Mars is nearer to the asteroid belt than Earth, so it should scoop up more rocks than we do. Also, its atmosphere is much thinner than ours so more of the rocks make it to the surface without burning up.

  3. Tim Reyes says:

    Impact craters are circular for incident angles that are very low. The in-coming impactor has to have a very shallow approach angle to cause a oblong impact crater. The debris field will be distorted such as this one but the crater still circular. Pretty amazing. The impact of these high speed objects is more of an explosion rather than “impact” which is why the craters are circular. The expansion speed of the explosion is faster than the approach speed of the impactor.

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