Skip to main content

See the crater scar left on Mars by an ancient impact

The surface of Mars is dotted with craters, created when asteroids, meteoroids, or comets smashed into the planet and caused large impact marks. Unlike Earth, which has relatively few impact craters because of its tectonic processes, on Mars, these craters remain for billions of years.

An image of one such crater was captured from orbit by the European Space Agency (ESA)’s Mars Express spacecraft on April 25, 2022, and was just recently released. The image shows a large crater, nearly 19 miles across, in a region called Aonia Terra.

This image from ESA’s Mars Express shows part of the scarred and colourful landscape that makes up Aonia Terra, an upland region in the southern highlands of Mars.
This image from ESA’s Mars Express shows part of the scarred and colorful landscape that makes up Aonia Terra, an upland region in the southern highlands of Mars. ESA/DLR/FU Berlin, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

The landscape around the crater shows channels gouged into the surface, which were likely created when water flowed in rivers across Mars billions of years ago. “The channels appear to be partly filled with a dark material, and in some places, seem to actually be raised above the surrounding land,” ESA writes. “There are a variety of possible explanations for this. Perhaps erosion-resistant sediment settled at the bottom of the channels when water flowed through them. Or perhaps the channels were filled in with lava later on in Mars’ history.”

The image was taken using Mars Express’s High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC), and is a true-color image meaning it shows what a human eye would see. The data collected was also used to create a 3D terrain model, which allowed researchers to generate a view of the crater from a different angle as well:

The scarred and colorful landscape that makes up Aonia Terra, an upland region in the southern highlands of Mars.
This oblique perspective view of part of the scarred and colorful landscape that makes up Aonia Terra, an upland region in the southern highlands of Mars, was generated from the digital terrain model and the nadir and color channels of the High Resolution Stereo Camera on ESA’s Mars Express. ESA/DLR/FU Berlin, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

Studying impact craters is important as it allows scientists to estimate the geological ages of various features on the planet. The Aonia Terra region in the southern hemisphere is an excellent place for such research as it boasts many large craters, including the Lowell crater which is over 120 miles across.

The Lowell crater is named after Percival Lowell, an astronomer in the 1800s who famously thought that he observed canals on Mars, leading to an explosion of interest in the idea of life on Mars among the public. Although his theories were disproven and his observations turned out to be optical illusions, Lowell continues to have an influence both in science fiction writing and on science thanks to his passion for building observatories.

Editors' Recommendations

Georgina Torbet
Georgina is the Digital Trends space writer, covering human space exploration, planetary science, and cosmology. She…
See Mars’s beautiful Jezero Crater from the air in flyover video
Still from the video of Jezero crater created by merging data from various Mars orbiting spacecraft.

If you're feeling in need of some travel to broaden your horizons but you don't have the option to leave home right now, the European Space Agency (ESA) has something special to offer you: A virtual flight over the famous Jezero Crater on Mars.

The video, created using computer simulations from data collected by ESA’s Mars Express and NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, begins in orbit and shows a soothing swoop down to Jezero's location, before switching to a point of view slightly above the surface to show you the view of the crater from above. First you see a pan around the entire crater, then the video goes closer to show the features of the crater in more detail.

Read more
How Europe’s ExoMars rover plans to get to Mars without Russia
ESA’s Rosalind Franklin twin rover is back on its wheels and drilled down 1.7 metres into a martian-like ground in Italy – about 25 times deeper than any other rover has ever attempted on Mars. The test rover, known as Amalia, also collected samples for analysis under the watchful eye of European science teams.

Space missions get scuppered for all kinds of reasons, from engineering problems to budget issues. But the ExoMars mission, Europe and Russia's joint plan to send a rover to Mars, faced a complicated political and ethical issue when Russia invaded Ukraine last year. The European Space Agency (ESA) had been working with the Russian space agency Roscomos on the mission but this partnership was soon suspended over what ESA called the "human casualties and tragic consequences of the aggression towards Ukraine."

Without Roscosmos, the Rosalind Franklin rover was left without a launcher and it was not clear whether the rover would be able to launch at all. But loath to give up on the project, ESA decided it would build its own lander and get the rover to Mars hopefully by 2030. This week, ESA shared more information about the plans for the mission and how it is continuing with testing for the rover.

Read more
How much fuel is left in this 20-year-old Mars orbiter?
NASA’s 2001 Mars Odyssey orbiter is depicted in this illustration. The mission team spent most of 2021 assessing how much propellant is left on the orbiter, concluding it has enough to stay active through at least 2025.

Designing, building, and launching a spacecraft is hugely expensive. That's why NASA missions to Mars are designed with the hope that they'll last as long as possible -- like the famous Opportunity rover which was supposed to last for 90 days and managed to keep going for 15 years. The longer a mission can keep running, the more data it can collect, and the more we can learn from it.

That's true for the orbiters which travel around Mars as well as the rovers which explore its surface, like the Mars Odyssey spacecraft which was launched in 2001 and has been in orbit around Mars for more than 20 years. But the orbiter can't keep going forever as it will eventually run out of fuel, so figuring out exactly how much fuel is left is important -- but it also turned out to be more complicated than the NASA engineers were expecting.

Read more