Recent impacts on the Red Planet, detected by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

NASA’s high-flying Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) has imaged a recent impact event in Noachis Terra in the southern mid-latitudes of Mars.

The impact was initially discovered in a 2016 MRO Context Camera image, and was not seen in a 2009 picture. “This implies that the impact may be only two years old, but certainly no more than nine years,” according to a statement from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) Operations Center at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

On patrol – NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO).
Credit: NASA/JPL

Multiple impacts

“Rather than a single impact crater, we see multiple impacts like a shotgun blast. This suggests that the impactor broke up in the atmosphere on entry. Although the atmosphere of Mars is thinner than Earth’s, it still has the capacity to break up small impactors, especially ones comprised of weaker materials, like a stony meteoroid versus a iron-nickel one.”

Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

MRO imagery shows 21 distinctive craters ranging in size from 1 to 7 meters in diameter. They are distributed over an area that spans about 1,000 feet (305 meters).

“Most observed recent impacts expose darker-toned materials underlying bright dusty surfaces,” researchers Matthew Bourassa, Shannon Hibbard, Eric Pilles and Livio Tornabene report. “However, this impact does the opposite, showing us lighter-toned materials that lie beneath a darker colored surface.”

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