‘Colossal asteroid strike on Mars leaves behind two billion craters’

NEW DELHI: In a groundbreaking discovery, scientists have uncovered evidence of an immense asteroid impact on Mars that occurred over two million years ago, leaving a trail of destruction marked by one massive crater and approximately two billion smaller craters. This event, taking place on the Martian equator in the region known as Elysium Planitia, created a sprawling field of secondary craters across an area spanning 1,000 miles (1,800 kilometers), representing one of the most significant impact events on Mars in its recent geological history.
A Rare cosmic event: Shaping the Martian landscape
According to a report in Space.com, such colossal asteroid impacts are rare occurrences on Mars, estimated to happen once every three million years. The primary crater, named Corinto, measures 8.6 miles (13.9 kilometers) wide and 0.62 miles (1 km) deep. The vast array of secondary craters, ranging from 656 feet (200 meters) to 0.8 miles (1.3 km) in diameter, fans out from Corinto in a distinctive “ray system,” highlighting the enormity of the asteroid’s collision with the Red Planet.
Despite its ancient origin, the Corinto crater and its surrounding secondary impacts are considered remarkably young in Martian geological terms. Some secondary craters even intersect with lava flows from the now-extinct volcano Elysium Mons, providing a unique snapshot of Martian volcanic activity intertwined with cosmic events, the Space.com report said.
Employing modern technology to peer into the past
Researchers utilized thermal and visible imaging data from Nasa’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, employing machine learning algorithms to differentiate Corinto’s ejecta-generated craters from other Martian impact sites. This innovative approach has allowed scientists to estimate the age of the Corinto impact and quantify the extensive spread of secondary craters it produced.
Deciphering the impact’s direction
The distribution of secondary craters, predominantly to the south and southwest of Corinto, suggests the asteroid approached Mars at an angle of approximately 30 to 45 degrees from the north or northeast. The ejecta’s reach, with some fragments landing as far as 1,150 miles (1,850 km) away, underscores the impact’s sheer force, comparable to four times the length of the Grand Canyon.
A diverse array of crater shapes
The study also categorized secondary craters based on their shape, revealing a mix of round, semi-circular, and elliptical formations. This diversity is attributed to various factors, including the speed of ejection, the size of the ejecta fragments, and the Martian surface’s composition where they landed.
Insights into Martian volcanism and hydrology
The nature of the ejecta suggests that the asteroid impact may have struck areas rich in volcanic basalt and possibly water or ice. Evidence of this includes pits within the Corinto crater, indicative of water or gas release upon impact with ice-rich materials.
This monumental study not only sheds light on a singular event in Mars’s geological history but also offers insights into the planet’s volcanic activity and hydrological past. Presented at the 55th annual Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in Texas, these findings mark a significant advancement in our understanding of the Red Planet’s dynamic and tumultuous history.

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