Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Largest Crater In Solar System Revealed By NASA Spacecraft

Date:
June 26, 2008
Source:
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Summary:
New analysis of Mars' terrain using NASA spacecraft observations reveals what appears to be by far the largest impact crater ever found in the solar system.

Artist's concept of Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
Credit: NASA/JPL

New analysis of Mars' terrain using NASA spacecraft observations reveals what appears to be by far the largest impact crater ever found in the solar system.

NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Mars Global Surveyor have provided detailed information about the elevations and gravity of the Red Planet's northern and southern hemispheres. A new study using this information may solve one of the biggest remaining mysteries in the solar system: Why does Mars have two strikingly different kinds of terrain in its northern and southern hemispheres? The huge crater is creating intense scientific interest.

The mystery of the two-faced nature of Mars has perplexed scientists since the first comprehensive images of the surface were beamed home by NASA spacecraft in the 1970s. The main hypotheses have been an ancient impact or some internal process related to the planet's molten subsurface layers. The impact idea, proposed in 1984, fell into disfavor because the basin's shape didn't seem to fit the expected round shape for a crater. The newer data is convincing some experts who doubted the impact scenario.

"We haven't proved the giant-impact hypothesis, but I think we've shifted the tide," said Jeffrey Andrews-Hanna, a postdoctoral researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge.

Andrews-Hanna and co-authors Maria Zuber of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Bruce Banerdt of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., report the new findings in the journal Nature this week.

A giant northern basin that covers about 40 percent of Mars' surface, sometimes called the Borealis basin, is the remains of a colossal impact early in the solar system's formation, the new analysis suggests. At 8,500 kilometers (5,300 miles) across, it is about four times wider than the next-biggest impact basin known, the Hellas basin on southern Mars. An accompanying report calculates that the impacting object that produced the Borealis basin must have been about 2,000 kiolometers (1,200 miles) across. That's larger than Pluto.

"This is an impressive result that has implications not only for the evolution of early Mars, but also for early Earth's formation," said Michael Meyer, the Mars chief scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

This northern-hemisphere basin on Mars is one of the smoothest surfaces found in the solar system. The southern hemisphere is high, rough, heavily cratered terrain, which ranges from 4 to 8 kilometers (2.5 to 5 miles) higher in elevation than the basin floor.

Other giant impact basins have been discovered that are elliptical rather than circular. But it took a complex analysis of the Martian surface from NASA's two Mars orbiters to reveal the clear elliptical shape of Borealis basin, which is consistent with being an impact crater.

One complicating factor in revealing the elliptical shape of the basin was that after the time of the impact, which must have been at least 3.9 billion years ago, giant volcanoes formed along one part of the basin rim and created a huge region of high, rough terrain that obscures the basin's outlines. It took a combination of gravity data, which tend to reveal underlying structure, with data on current surface elevations to reconstruct a map of Mars elevations as they existed before the volcanoes erupted.

"In addition to the elliptical boundary of the basin, there are signs of a possible second, outer ring -- a typical characteristic of large impact basins," Banerdt said.

JPL manages the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. For more information about the mission, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/mro.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "Largest Crater In Solar System Revealed By NASA Spacecraft." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 26 June 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/06/080625223036.htm>.
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. (2008, June 26). Largest Crater In Solar System Revealed By NASA Spacecraft. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 1, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/06/080625223036.htm
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "Largest Crater In Solar System Revealed By NASA Spacecraft." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/06/080625223036.htm (accessed September 1, 2014).

Share This




More Space & Time News

Monday, September 1, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Space Shuttle Discovery's Legacy, 30 Years Later

Space Shuttle Discovery's Legacy, 30 Years Later

Newsy (Aug. 30, 2014) The space shuttle Discovery launched for the very first time 30 years ago. Here's a look back at its legacy. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Experiment Tests Whether Universe Is Actually A Hologram

Experiment Tests Whether Universe Is Actually A Hologram

Newsy (Aug. 27, 2014) Researchers at Fermilab are using a device called "The Holometer" to test whether our universe is actually a 2-D hologram that just seems 3-D. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 Rocket Explodes After Liftoff

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 Rocket Explodes After Liftoff

Newsy (Aug. 23, 2014) The private spaceflight company says it is preparing a thorough investigation into Friday's mishap. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Did Russia Really Find Plankton On The ISS? NASA Not So Sure

Did Russia Really Find Plankton On The ISS? NASA Not So Sure

Newsy (Aug. 21, 2014) Russian cosmonauts say they've found evidence of sea plankton on the International Space Station's windows. NASA is a little more skeptical. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins