NASA Spacecraft Counts Impacts on Red Planet

NASA has used a camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft to study how frequently the planet Mars is impacted by meteors. Image Credit: NASA / JPL

NASA has used a camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft to study how frequently the planet Mars is impacted by meteors. Image Credit: NASA / JPL

NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) has been kept busy counting the amount of impacts the Red Planet has to endure on a yearly basis. The number? More than 200 small asteroids or cometary debris collide with the planet’s surface annually. The craters formed measure at least 12.8 feet (3.9 meters) across.

Almost 250 new impact sites have been identified by researchers in the last ten years. These researchers developed the 200-per-year estimate off of calculations per a specific portion of the planet’s surface discovered under a systematic survey.

“It’s exciting to find these new craters right after they form,” said Ingrid Daubar of the University of Arizona, Tucson, and the lead author of a paper published on the subject. “It reminds you Mars is an active planet, and we can study processes that are happening today.”

Scientists utilized the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on MRO to take the images of the Martian craters.

“The longevity of this mission is providing wonderful opportunities for investigating changes on Mars,” said MRO Deputy Project Scientist Leslie Tamppari of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

This process used to determine the frequency of impact provides researchers with a new method to study the rate of impact on the Martian surface. This should allow for better estimates in determining the age of new features on the surface of the Red Planet.  Much as on Earth, some of the changes in the landscape are due to climate change.

“Mars now has the best-known current rate of cratering in the solar system,” said HiRISE Principal Investigator Alfred McEwen.

The size of the objects impacting the surface has been estimated at being no larger than 3 to 6 feet (1 to 2 meters) in diameter. Space debris that is too small to reach the surface here on Earth have no trouble doing so on Mars, as the Red Planet’s atmosphere is only one percent as thick as our own.

 

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1 comment to NASA Spacecraft Counts Impacts on Red Planet

  • Yet another example of the wonderous discoveries that planetary spacecraft will bring to mankind. Imagine a fleet of probes exploring the moons of the outer planets. We’re just beginning to scratch the surface!