NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has snapped a stunning picture of the latest crater to form on Mars. The small indentation is located near the Southern Pole and it is believed to have happened sometime between July and September of 2018. The picture was taken on October 5.
The meteorite punched through the seasonal southern ice cap, melting the mixture of frozen carbon dioxide and water ice that covers the region during the Martian (southern) winter. The impactor lifted the red sand as it hit, flinging it out and forming this gorgeous two-tone image. The distribution of the sand and the size of the crater can tell us a lot about what happened.
The region close to the crater obviously received most of the blast energy, forming the crater and melting the ice. But a wider blast pattern can clearly be seen and researchers think that the sand visible there is due to the shock wave scouring away the thin layer of ice. The inner blast pattern can extend to more than 10 times that size and the effects of the shock waves are clearly visible much further away.
Based on the image resolution, the crater is roughly 28 by 23 meters (92 by 75 feet). The cause for it is likely a small object, at most a few meters across. Estimating the impactor from the size of the crater can be difficult because it depends on the object's density, speed, and impact angle.
The incredible image was captured by the High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment, or HiRISE, one of the cameras on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The camera has the highest aperture of any telescope sent into deep space and is capable of resolving objects that are less than a meter across. It is operated by researchers at the University of Arizona.
The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is one of the flagship missions that NASA has around the Red Planet. Since its orbital insertion in 2005, it has conducted incredible observations of Mars. Its cameras, spectrometers, and radars have been used to analyze the landforms, minerals, and ice of Mars. It's estimated the amount of water ice in the polar caps, and discovered briny water flowing on the surface. It also keeps an eye on the rovers and landers currently on the surface of the Red Planet.