NASA snaps a spectacular new crater on Mars

One of the surprises revealed by the constant surveillance of Mars by orbiting spacecraft is that fresh craters are frequently appearing due to meteor impacts.

Crater on Mars
The spectacular new impact crater imaged by Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter’s HiRISE camera. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

NASA has estimated their numbers at more than 200 a year. But few are as spectacular as one left by a recent impact that was recorded by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO).

A remarkable image from MRO’s High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera shows the new crater in stark relief. It is around 30 metres (100ft) in diameter and lies at a latitude of 3.7 degrees North and 53.4 degrees East.

The crater is surrounded by the classic pattern of rays produced by the impact blast, similar to that seen with relatively recent craters on the Moon. Scientists have calculated that the impact hurled ejecta, the debris produced by the blast, as far as 15 km (more than 9 miles) from the crater site.

Because the terrain where the crater formed is dusty, the fresh crater appears blue in the enhanced colour of the image, due to removal of the reddish dust in that area.

It was first recorded by MRO’s Context Camera which revealed that there had been a change in the region’s appearance here between observations in July 2010 and May 2012. NASA was finally able to get a detailed image of the new crater using HiRISE on 19 November 2013.

Mars is currently becoming more prominent in the night sky as the Earth moves to overtake it on the inside on our orbits around the Sun. Mars takes roughly twice the time to orbit the Sun as the Earth does, so we come together every couple of years, or so.

Mars will next be closest in April when it will present the best views to amateur stargazers’ telescopes. You can find it with the help of our guide. Opposition, the point when it lies on the other side of the Earth to the Sun, is on 8 April, 2014.

Paul Sutherland

Paul Sutherland has been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. He writes regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy, plus he has authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.