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INCOMING! Tharsis – NOT a good place for a Mars Base…


I love it when I find something that makes me go “Hmmmmm…” on Mars. Last time it was those bouncing boulders. This time my HiRISE hunting on the Mars Global Data site has turned up something even more fascinating, I think.

I was browsing the HiRISE map on the Global Data site earlier today, and found, on the flank of the Tharsis Tholus volcano – one of the many minor volcanoes that can be found around the four large and well-known volcanoes in that region – a dark smudgy spot…


Being “quite familiar” with the content of HiRISE imagery by now I thought I recognised the smudge as one of those “recent impact craters” which feature quite often on the HiRISE site, and when I went to the full image yep, that’s just what it was – a recent impact crater, formed some time between October 2007 and APril 2008. Pretty cool! Here’s a zoom-in. You can clearly see a “fresh” crater at the centre of a spray of dusty material, and even a few (secondary?) craters around it…


Worth colourising? I thought so…


Now, that would have been a pretty interesting “find” in its own right, but with a little bit of time on my hands I thought I’d take a look around the area. There were a few more HiRISE footprints around Tharsis Tholus, so I clicked on the nearest. Nothing. The next one, then, right at the base of the volcano itself –

Ah… another dark spot… let’s zoom in – wow, look at that


That’s a MUCH bigger crater, deeper too, a more violent impact event to be sure. Adding some colour was irresistible…


WHat did the HiRISE site say about this new crater? “Formed between Jan 07 and Dec 07” – hang on, that meant it could… could… have been formed at the same time as the other fresh crater…

Two fresh/recent/new impact craters, formed at around the same time, in the same area… interesting… Were there any more?

I started to look at all the HiRISE footprints in the area – and half an hour later I’d found a total of FIVE “fresh” craters around the Tharsis Tholus volcano. So, giving the first crater found the letter “a” and the second “b”, here are “c”, “d” and “e”.


… and a zoom-in on the centre impact area… you can clearly see several objects came down here, a hail of stones falling from the pink martian sky…


Here’s “d”…


And finally, “e”, which is something a little special…


“e” is a multiple impact site. You can see eight different small craters there, suggesting that either a hail of small objects came in along the same line, or a single, large object blew up above this part of Mars, peppering it with fragments, like shrapnel from an exploding shell…

So, one relatively small part of Mars, five different “fresh impact craters” spotted by HiRISE. I can’t tie ALL the dates together because the HiRISE pages for craters “c” and “d” don’t give any dates, but crater “e”, HiRISE says, was formed “between June 04 and Feb 08, which is the same rough time period covered by “a” and “b”. I think that’s fascinating myself, even if it is pure coincidence.

Anyway, if you want to check out these craters for yourself, here’s where to look.


And if you want to do some exploring yourself, the HiRISE images in question are:

a: PSP 010621_1960

b: PSP 007272_1945

c: PSP 007865_1940

d: PSP 008300_1905

e: PSP 007773_1930

What does this mean? Well, almost certainly nothing. It’s just a curiosity, that’s all. But I know one thing. If I was put in charge of planning the first permanently manned base on Mars, I’d build it somewhere far away from Tharsis Tholus…! 🙂


6 Responses

  1. One possibility to explain all of these fresh craters is that Tharsis is dusty, so if you’re looking for craters by watching for disrupted dust, you’re more likely to find them on Tharsis!

  2. Hi,

    Not sure if I’m missing something, but why do you think that Tharsis Tholus is a ‘specific’ dangerous area for impacts? Given Mars rotates, won’t impacts occur randomly across the surface of Mars? Ie: no ‘hot spots’, but rather a general scattering……?

    What did I miss?

  3. Tharsis has other problems as a base site: it’s pretty high up, so you don’t get much benefit from the Martian atmosphere as a radiation shield. The altitude may mean no subsurface cryosphere for water — and I wouldn’t be surprised if the region gets the occasional Marsquake.

  4. Not a good place for the base; but what a place to explore. All that freshly stirred and shaken dust.

  5. As a member of the science ops team for the CTX camera aboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, I’d like to point out that HiRISE doesn’t just come across these impacts by chance. They were all discovered using the CTX camera (comparing the images to previous CTX, THEMIS, HRSC, and/or MOC), at which point we direct HiRISE to where they are to shoot them at higher resolution. Ryan is correct, we do preferentially find fresh impacts in the dusty parts of Mars because they are easy to pick out thanks to those distinctive blast zones.

  6. […] 6. Mai: Kuriose Häufung neuer Impaktkrater auf dem Mars von Amateur entdeckt – signifikant ist es aber wohl […]

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