In April of this year, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) noticed a new impact crater on Mars and it is unlike anything astronomers have ever seen. On a planet with a dusty red surface, the black and blue colors of the new crater definitely stand out, as well as its size and impact waves. In fact, during the thirteen years that the MRO has been observing Mars, they haven’t seen anything as remarkable as this new crater.
NASA’s High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera took the pictures of the crater while it was orbiting the planet at a distance of 158 miles away. While the exact date of the impact is unknown, astronomers believe that it happened between September 2016 and February 2019.
While it’s not uncommon for the Red Planet to get struck by asteroids and comets (more than 200 each year), this one is quite peculiar. Veronica Bray, who is a planetary scientist at the University of Arizona, told Space.com that the newly discovered crater is one of the most impressive that she’s ever seen.
Although the space rock that hit the planet was only around 5 feet wide, it created a crater of around 49 to 53 feet wide. If the five-foot-wide space rock would have come towards Earth, it would have burned up in our atmosphere. It is believed that the rock was probably more solid than normal, as the entire thing hit in one location close to the Martin equator called the Valles Marineris region. Normally, other small space rocks that come into Mars’ atmosphere shatter into much smaller pieces and create a bunch of little craters.
The announcement on the HiRISE website states “What makes this stand out is the darker material exposed beneath the reddish dust.” The darker area in the middle of the crater is where the dust had been pushed to the side and what is exposed is Mars’ rocky surface. Bray explained that the surface below the dust is more than likely basaltic rock and that the blue color in the image could be exposed ice that was hiding underneath. Even though the impact happened near the Martian equator, Bray said that it’s still possible that there could be some ice underneath the dust.
You can see the stunning picture of the black and blue crater here.
We are still learning so much about Mars and this new crater is just one of the many fascinating discoveries on the Red Planet.