spaceSpace and Physics

Ever Wondered What It's Like To Fly Over A Martian Crater?

A new video released by the European Space Agency (ESA) allows Earthbound viewers to take a close look at the 102-kilometer (63-mile)-wide Neukum Crater on Mars from the comfort of their homes 54.6 million kilometers (33.9 million miles) away.



The crater is named after Professor Gerhard Neukum, one of the founders of ESA’s Mars Express mission, who passed away in 2014. It is located on the Red Planet’s pockmarked southern hemisphere within a large landmass that formed an estimated 3.9 billion years ago. Dubbed Noachis Terra, meaning "Land of Noah", the highland region is believed to be one of the planet's oldest geological areas.

The result of a meteor impact many millions, or even billions, of years ago, the crater’s features have been softened by eons of weathering and exposure. The floor is now partially filled in and sports intriguing wind-whipped black dunes likely made by volcanic material that was blown in, according to ESA scientists.

As the animation dazzlingly pans above and nearly 360 degrees around, one can see the many other impact sites surrounding Neukum, including several that took a bite out of the rim itself.

Fittingly, the movie was created using images captured by the Mars Express orbiter’s high-resolution camera that was developed by Professor Neukum. Thanks to its wealth of onboard scientific instruments, the orbiter has also been providing detailed maps of land’s mineralogical composition, subsurface structure (using radar), atmospheric circulation, and temperature since it first became operational in early 2004.


The spacecraft is slated to continue gathering information from orbit until the end of 2020.

Meanwhile, NASA’s Curiosity rover just celebrated its 2,000th Martian day, called a sol, on the planet’s surface. Initially planned as a two-year mission to explore the climate and geology of the Gale Crater and surrounding mountain ridges, Curiosity’s journey has been extended indefinitely. In the five-plus years since it first landed, the car-sized mobile laboratory has covered over 18 kilometers (11 miles) of ground while taking countless images, analyzing rock samples, and hunting for signs of water and possible organic molecules. The invaluable data gathered will allow scientists to plan a manned mission to the planet and determine if it ever supported microbial life.


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