Scars on Mars

Elongated crater on Mars

This elongated crater on Mars is about 78km in length and reaches a depth of 2km. It was probably formed by the impact of a train of projectiles.

A NEW IMAGE OF AN ELONGATED impact crater in the southern hemisphere of Mars hints at a violent origin. Scientists think it could have been carved out by a train of meteoroid projectiles striking the planet at a shallow angle.

Image of a region of Mars including Huygens crater

The elongated crater (centre) is located near the 450km-wide Huygens crater.

The image above was captured by the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Mars Express spacecraft on 4 August 2010, and the smallest objects distinguishable by the camera are about 15m across.

The unnamed crater sits just to the south of the much larger Huygens basin (see image at right). It is about 78km in length, opens from just under 10km wide at one end to 25km at the other, and reaches a depth of 2km.

Impact craters are generally round because the projectiles that create them push into the ground before the shockwave of the impact can explode outwards. So why is this one elongated?

The clue comes from the surrounding smattering of material, thrown out in the initial impact. This ‘ejecta blanket’ is shaped like a butterfly’s wings, with two distinct lobes. It hints that two projectiles, possibly halves of a once-intact body, slammed into the surface here.

And the formation of this sort of elongated feature is not finished. In a few tens of millions of years, the Martian moon Phobos will plough into the planet, breaking up in the process, and likely creating new crater chains across the surface.

3D view of the crater

A striking perspective view of the crater.

Adapted from information issued by ESA / DLR / FU Berlin (G. Neukum) / NASA / MGS / MOLA Science Team.

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