NASA Spacecraft Reveal Largest Crater in Solar System - 06.25.08
New analysis of Mars' terrain using NASA spacecraft observations reveals what appears to be by far the largest impact crater ever found in the solar system.
Andrews-Hanna and co-authors Maria Zuber of MIT and Bruce Banerdt of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., report the new findings in the journal Nature this week. A giant northern basin that covers about 40 percent of Mars' surface, sometimes called the Borealis basin, is the remains of a colossal impact early in the solar system's formation, the new analysis suggests. At 5,300 miles across, it is about four times wider than the next-biggest impact basin known, the Hellas basin on southern Mars. An accompanying report calculates that the impacting object that produced the Borealis basin must have been about 1,200 miles across. That's larger than Pluto.
And as usual the astronomers are clueless...
A new study using this information may solve one of the biggest remaining mysteries in the solar system: why does Mars have two strikingly different kinds of terrain in its northern and southern hemispheres? The huge crater is creating intense scientific interest.
The mystery of the two-faced nature of Mars has perplexed scientists since the first comprehensive images of the surface were beamed home by NASA spacecraft in the 1970s. The main hypotheses have been an ancient impact or some internal process related to the planet's molten subsurface layers. The impact idea, proposed in 1984, fell into disfavor because the basin's shape didn't seem to fit the expected round shape for a crater. The newer data is convincing some experts who doubted the impact scenario.
"We haven't proved the giant-impact hypothesis, but I think we've shifted the tide," said Jeffrey Andrews-Hanna, a postdoctoral researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge.