A triple crater in Elysium Planitia on Mars. Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona.

Amazing Impact Crater Where a Triple Asteroid Smashed into Mars

Article Updated: 23 Dec , 2015

At first glance, you many not guess that this feature on Mars is an impact crater. The reason it looks so unusual is that it likely is a triple impact crater, formed when three asteroids struck all at once in the Elysium Planitia region.

Why do planetary scientists think the three craters did not form independently at different times?

“The ejecta blanket appears to be uniform around the triple-crater showing no signs of burial or overlapping ejecta from overprinting craters,” write scientists Eric Pilles, Livio Tornabene, Ryan Hopkins, and Kayle Hansen on the HiRISE website. “The crater rims are significantly stunted where the craters overlap.”

This oblong-shaped crater could have been created from a triple asteroid, or it could have been a binary asteroid, and one broke apart, creating the three overlapping craters. The team says the two larger craters must have been produced by asteroids of approximately the same size, probably on the order of a few hundred meters across.

“The northern crater might have been created by a smaller asteroid, which was orbiting the larger binary pair, or when one of the binary asteroids broke up upon entering the atmosphere,” the team explained. “The shape of the triple-crater is oblong, suggesting an oblique impact; therefore, another alternative would be that the asteroid split upon impact and ricocheted across the surface, creating additional craters.”

Studying craters on Mars — and there are lots of them, thanks to Mars’ sparse atmosphere — can help estimate the ages of different terrains, as well as revealing materials such as ice or minerals that get exposed from the impact.

HiRISE is the amazing camera on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

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17 Responses

  1. bfmorris says:

    I wonder if it was an unusual impact like this that ejected material into space, where some of it ultimately made its way to Earth.

  2. TedH says:

    Isn’t the light comming from the right? In that case… it looks more like a hill (Uluru / Ayers Rock) than a crater.

    • Fraser Cain says:

      It’s one of those optical illusions. I see a crater, not a hill. Keep staring at it, and it’ll flip back and forth for you.

      • mewo says:

        I saw a hill first, but then I moved my desk lamp from the right side of my monitor to the left. And suddenly the hill turned into a crater. 🙂

  3. Tihomir says:

    ” The crater they formed is about 15 ” …?
    Miles across? Any data on the size?

    • Tihomir says:

      OK, I see the sentence has since been removed. Still, I’d be curious to learn how big the craters are…

  4. Duncan says:

    I don’t think that asteroids are to praise for these oddly shaped craters.. The walls are very jaggered and obtrusive, showing very little sign of material bombardment. In fact, this looks like someone has taken a welding machine, or some sort of electrical plasma arcing device and cut away at the surface, melting its surroundings.

    I am not saying that there were no asteroids at all, but I strongly believe that this was initially created by electricity. I have been doing extensive research in the Electrical Universe, and my mind has just been bombarded with so much sense!

    “For those investigating the role of electricity in planetary evolution, these cleanly “scooped out” depressions are markers of surface erosion by electric discharge. Such markers include a wide variety of surface features—from great domes and massive trenches to networks of undulating grooves and dense fields of craters. The structural details of these features boldly contradict the popular explanations for such geology.”

    That is a snippet taken from the Thunderbolts Project website, go take a read and make your own minds up. But you can’t tell me that 3 asteroids smashed into there at the same time to create that ‘electrical’ looking scar. cummon!

    ref: https://www.thunderbolts.info/tpod/2005/arch05/050411marspits.htm

    By the way, I am just a regular guy, with a regular life, regularly looking up into the sky 😉

    • killswitch says:

      ah man you beat me to it !
      Wal Thornhill would argue that the floor in this picture looks flat and thus can never be from an impact crater. Anyway don’t push yourself trying to convince people that seal their eyes.

  5. UFOsMOTHER says:

    It was not 3 asteroids that hit the surface it was 1 asteroid that has broken into 3 pieces just before impact …I think 🙂

  6. mewo says:

    Ugh, is there anything the Electric Universe people won’t appropriate for their nonsense ideas? No, this crater was not created by en electrical discharge.

    • Duncan says:

      Have you even looked at the proposed electric universe theories? It’s funny how there are so many experiments, so much evidence, and so much information to back the results that you see there.. yet, you blatantly disregard any electrical theory for your own – which is purely speculation, blinded by stories that have been forged into stubborn minds over time.

      I’m not asking you to disregard everything you know.. just need you to actually take electricity into account when doing your investigations. Perhaps you will find more evidence and more answers that way.

      Don’t be a fool, when you touch someone and you feel an electric shock.. is that “dark energy” as well? Seriously, OPEN YOUR MIND and be REALISTIC!

      • mewo says:

        Yes, I have looked at the electrical universe theories. In my opinion they are vague, non-descriptive nonsense.

        Of course astronomers take electricity and magnetism into account. That’s why my university library has a whole bookshelf full of books about electric and magnetic fields in astrophysical phenomena.

        In my experience Electric Universe proponents seldom do more than point at pictures of things in space, going “Look! Electricity! Electricity! Nothing but electricity!” I have yet to see a single testable prediction come out of the EU camp.

      • Duncan says:

        That is very interesting .. especially when I have watched so many experiments recreating the things that they ‘point at’.

        Now I ask you this, below is a link to a youtube channel with so many detailed and DESCRIPTIVE videos by the leaders of the EU. There are also many videos of lab experiments there demonstrating the effects of electrical discharges… Please, seriously please, PLEEEASE watch them and give me your honest (with a completely open mind) opinion.


        I would really love to hear your opinion on the above.. I am no scientist, or astronomer.. but the information delivered to me through the Electrical universe has really opened my mind.

        And, don’t you mean – “Look! Dark matter! Black holes! Nothing but darkness!” – same thing, right?


  7. UFOsMOTHER says:

    mewo gets my vote 100% , Duncans ideas are SHOCKING!

  8. Aqua4U says:

    Hmm.. am wondering about subsequent subsurface detonation. i.e. upon initial impact enough heat is generated, deeply enough, to create superheated pockets of water vapor. Those pockets expand then erupt explosively in the aftermath creating secondary craters? Hmmm…

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