Saturday, February 8, 2014

A Fresh Crater Seen on Mars

The solar system is a violent place, with lots of hitting going on. Small chunks of rock and ice (left over from the formation of the planets) continue to move around the Sun and among its many worlds. When a chunk hits a planet, the pull of the planet's gravity brings the chunk in so fast, it explodes on impact, carving out a nice round crater.

We have several spacecraft orbiting and monitoring the planet Mars from above. One of them, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, recently showed astronomers that a fresh crater about 100 feet (30 meters) in diameter had formed near Mars' equator sometime between 2010 and 2012. In the enhanced-color view I am sharing here, the crater looks blue because the explosion has removed a lot of the red surface dust that makes Mars the "red planet."

Careful studies of this beautiful picture have shown that the explosion of the incoming rock fragment threw material outward on Mars for more than 9 miles in all directions. You can see the magnificent dark rays of explosive material that scarred the surface when the blast happened.

New craters are being made by such impacts pretty regularly on Mars and other worlds, but it's nice to get such a detailed and recent picture from the so-called HI-RISE camera in orbit -- one of our most sophisticated instruments observing Mars.

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