Launched in 2005, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, has brought us breathtaking photos of the Red Planet for the past 15 years. One of the latest photos from the Martian surface is an astonishing 50-foot wide crater. What’s more, the crater appears to be quite new. It was formed sometime between 2016 and 2019.
The MRO’s 143-pound HiRISE camera snapped the photo recently that showed some unusual features of the crater. For some reason, there’s a black-and-blue bruise within it. As we all know, Mars is a very red planet, so what’s the deal with the black and blue?
The Orbiter snaps hundreds of images of other craters every year. However, this is definitely one of the largest ones it has taken a photo of. After being operational for 13 years above Mars, photos like this are a rare glimpse into massive impacts on the planet’s surface.
Possibly Caused By a 5-Foot Wide Meteor
It’s speculated the the cause of the impact is likely to have been a meteor just five feet in diameter. Such a small meteor can cause quite extensive damage on Mars, which has a very thin atmosphere. However, if a meteor five feet wide came hurling into Earth’s thick atmosphere, it would have disintegrated entirely.
Another theory as to why the impact was so massive is that the meteor was made out of something like solid rock and metal. That’s because a majority of meteors break up high in Mars’ atmosphere. This leads to lots of tiny craters on the planet’s surface, rather than one giant one.
Mars Is Going Through Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes
This huge crater shows us how dynamic the planet is. Mars not only has impacts like this occurring regularly (although on a smaller scale), but also massive sand storms, avalanches, and other events.
The unusual colors of this crater are astounding, since we now see what is under all that red Martian dust. Some researchers think that there is some sort of basalt rock underneath it all. The blue areas could be ice that has been exposed. The jury is still out on that one, though. This crater is very close to Mars’ equatorial region, but since Mars is further out from the sun, it’s still possible that it is actually ice.
Peter Grindrod is a scientist who researches Mars and, upon seeing the new image, remarked that it, “kind of blew me away. I’d never see anything like that.” He also shared that thanks to HiRISE sharing its imaging data freely with the world, scientists and amateur astronomers can discover more about the neighboring planet. While data is kept exclusive for a short amount of time, after that, most of it is released to the public.
Grindrod is also someone involved in a project to generate height maps of several potential landing sites for Mars rovers. Additionally, he has given away these maps to anyone who wanted to see them. These maps can display which sites potentially contain water, which can be tremendously helpful in setting up a Mars colony sometimes in the future.