NASA’s HiRISE mission has spotted a crater on Mars that is dazzling and so new that just four years ago it didn’t exist.
The crater is 100 feet wide and shaped liked a starburst. It was caused by a small-ish space rock that slammed into the planet and exploded between July 2010 and May 2012. The impact sent debris as far as nine miles from the crater site.
The images above were taken last November and released this week. The first image, with blue overtones, is color enhanced. The center of the image is especially blue, because it is void of the red dust that covers most of the Martian surface.
Because of the size and depth of the crater, members of the HiRISE team estimate that the space rock that created it was about 10 feet long, much smaller than 65-foot one that rattled the Russian city of Chelyabinsk last year.
If an asteroid that size hit Earth most of it would burn up in our atmosphere and possibly cause what would look like a fireball to streak across the sky, said HiRISE principal investigator Alfred McEwen. But the Martian atmosphere has less than 1% the pressure and density of the Earth’s atmosphere, so asteroids that encounter Mars are more likely to impact the planet’s surface.
The crater was first spotted by the Context Camera, or CTX, one of the six instruments aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Scientists noticed a black spot in one of the CTX images that had not been there before. Because CTX has a wide field of view and cannot see specifics, NASA scientists decided to have HiRISE take a look.
Ari Espinoza, a spokesman for HiRISE, said that 250 new impact craters have appeared on the Martian surface in the last two decades. These impacts are helpful to scientists because they often expose the bedrock that lies beneath the planet’s dusty surface, allowing them to learn more about this extraterrestrial world.
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