A small space rock smashed into Mars in the last three years, leaving a brand-new impact crater on the surface of the Red Planet.
NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter recently spotted a crash site, which measures about 49 to 53 feet or about 15 to 16 meters. A photo captured by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment or HiRISE camera from April 2019 showed a black and blue smudge in the otherwise red landscape of the planet.
An Impact Occurs
Unfortunately, none of the spacecraft and rovers currently in the Red Planet got to witness the impact. However, NASA said that the crater was likely formed somewhere between Sept. 2016 and Feb. 2019.
Based on the size of the new crater, scientists estimated that the impactor was about 5 feet (1.5 meters) wide. It is quite small; if it missed Mars and instead crashed into Earth, it would have disintegrated as it enters the planet's thicker atmosphere.
However, it is dense. Other rocks coming into the Martian atmosphere break apart into smaller pieces before it hits the ground.
Mars' Brand New Crater
Nonetheless, it left quite an impact on Mars. The mysterious space rock exposed darker material beneath the usual red dust.
Veronica Bray, a staff scientist at the University of Arizona and a member of the HiRISE team, the bluish tint "may or may not be exposed ice." She explained that while the impact crater is located near the equator, she said that there still could be a bit of ice underneath all that dust.
She also told Space that the new feature on the surface of Mars is fascinating because the impact wave is still clearly visible. From what is already known about the geology of this side of the planet, the basaltic rock underneath was probably exposed.
"It is a reminder of what's out there," Bray stated. "It's a gorgeous [crater]. I'm glad I got it in the color strip."
KABOOM! Before and after images of a meteorite forming a brand new impact crater on Mars. Sometime between 18 Feb 2017 and 20 March 2019. pic.twitter.com/TWXtUoP5NA — Peter Grindrod (@Peter_Grindrod) June 12, 2019
The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter began orbiting Mars since 2006. For the past 13 years, the spacecraft has been collecting data on the Martian surface and atmosphere, spotting unique features on the Red Planet every year.
On May 15, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter completed 60,000 loops around Mars.