This Amazing Image Of A Meteorite Impact On Mars Is Not Quite What You Think

The impact probably occured in the last decade. NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

Sometimes you see an image that just takes your breath away at first sight. This, undoubtedly, is one of those images.

Snapped by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) on February 7, 2018, the image shows the aftermath of a meteorite striking the Martian surface.

In the image, you can clearly see the impact crater where the meteorite hit, thought to have been within a decade, some time between April 2008 and December 2017. There’s also an accompanying streak that makes it look like the meteorite scorched the ground on the way.

But that streak is actually the result of an avalanche caused by the impact. When the meteoroid hit the surface and exploded, it destabilized the slope and started the avalanche, which is known as a slope streak. And it was a rather impressive size.

“The crater itself is only 5 meters [16.5 feet] across, but the streak it started is 1 kilometer [0.6 miles] long!" NASA explained in a release yesterday. “Slope streaks are created when dry dust avalanches leave behind dark swaths on dusty Martian hills.”

To the left of the streak, you can even see the remains of an older avalanche, although it’s not clear when that one was produced. It’s pretty amazing, though, that we can see something like this on Mars, thanks to HiRISE. The scale of the image is 25 centimeters (10 inches) per pixel.

This image has been rotated, so north is actually down in the image. A broader image below shows the view from further away, with about 28 centimeters (11 inches) per pixel. This makes objects slightly larger than a basketball visible on the surface.

“MRO has found hundreds of brand new, dated craters like this on Mars, but it's extremely rare that one of them triggers an event like this," Dr Ingrid Daubar from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) told IFLScience.

The MRO has been orbiting Mars since March 2006, providing us with some stunning imagery in that time. Something like this, though, that’s a hell of a shot. Nice going, team.

The view from further out, flipped to show north as up. NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

 

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