Pock-marked Mars has more than 635,000 craters
Mars has taken a battering over billions of years, fielding hits from comets, asteroids, and other cosmic debris that have created quite the pock-marked face for the Red Planet.
Using data from orbiters around the planet and rovers that have spent time on its surface, a research team at the University of Colorado Boulder took on the tedious job of creating an atlas of all known craters at least 500 meters wide.
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"We have all this new information coming from Mars orbiters and landers that have helped generate far better maps illustrating the planet's topography and surface details. I basically analyzed maps and drew crater rim circles for four years," said Stuart Robbins, who led the effort.
Sounds like dull work, but the result is an astounding picture of the many blemishes that mark the Martian surface. In the video above, each red dot is a crater, which makes Robbins' cataloging task seem even more overwhelming.
"Our crater database contains both rim heights and crater depths, which can help us differentiate between craters that have been filled in versus those that have eroded by different processes over time, giving us a better idea about long-term changes on the planet's surface," said Robbins.
It could also help with upcoming missions to the planet, said co-author Brian Hynek.
NASA wants to know where the craters are and their particular features both from a safety and research standpoint. "Craters act as a 'poor man's drill' that provide new information about the subsurface of Mars," he says, according to Futurity.org.
Robbins said most of the smaller diameter craters on Mars are younger than the largest craters and form the bulk of the planet's crater population, reports The Daily Mail.
"The basic idea of age dating is that if a portion of the planet's surface has more craters, it has been around longer," said Robbins. Volcanic activity and erosion on the planet essentially erases older geological features.
Knowing the size and location of craters can also give researchers clues into the makeup of the soil and help them understand the history of water volcanism on Mars, and the planet's potential for encouraging past primitive life.
"Craters act as a 'poor man's drill' that provide new information about the subsurface of Mars," said Robbins.
"This database is a giant tool that will be helpful in scores of future Mars studies ranging from age-dating and erosion to planetary habitability and to other applications we have not even thought of yet," said Robbins. "In a sense it's like building a new and better hammer, which quickly becomes used by everyone."
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