Small asteroids and chunks of cometary debris frequently slam into the surface of Mars, gouging out new craters. Thanks to a high resolution camera aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, scientists can often spot such impacts relatively soon after they occur.
The image above, acquired by the orbiter’s High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment is a compelling example. It shows a crater and blast zone from an impact that likely occurred as recently as this past August, and no later than January 2014, according to HiRISE scientists
The crater is about 13 feet acrossis about 13 across
. That means the asteroid or comet fragment that gouged it out was probably about three to six feet across.
I’m drawing that inference based on a 2013 study
. HiRISE images showed that every year, the Red Planet is bombarded by more than 200 asteroids or comet chunks — and these typically measure three to six feet in diameter, with resulting craters at least 12.8 feet wide.
Mars gets blasted with such small chunks of interplanetary debris quite frequently because its atmosphere is thinner than our own. Here on Earth, asteroids and cometary bits that small tend to burn up before reaching the surface.
Before the incredibly high resolution images provided by HiRISE, it was difficult if not impossible for instruments in orbit to pick out the small craters carved into the Martian surface by such diminutive impactors.
And that’s not all that HiRISE has been able to spot on the Martian surface…