Mars, the fourth planet from the Sun and the closest thing to Earth in our solar system, is a world full of scars. Once thought to have been covered in oceans, river lakes, and surrounded by an atmosphere that made the planet likely habitable, the red planet is a barren world today, a glimpse of its former glory billions of years ago.
Its surface offers evidence that in the distant past, however, there were vast lakes, oceans, and rivers, but also how much the red planet was exposed to “cosmic bombardment.” The red planet is covered by scars left behind as massive meteors struck its surface.
Evidence of a “scared” red planet is shown in this new image of ESA’s Mars Express orbiter: an ancient triplet comprising not one but three overlapping craters.
This region was full of craters during the Noachian era, an ancient time about four billion years ago in the history of Mars in which large numbers of asteroids and comets flew inward to crash into the planet’s surface.
Some of the features created by these collisions remain intact on Mars today and, as they formed during the early days of the Solar System, are of particular interest to scientists seeking to learn more about our planetary neighbor and its past.
The image shown in this article offers an unprecedented view at a triple crater just east of a better-known geological feature called Le Verrier Crater, which stretches nearly 140 kilometers across. By contrast, the three depressions seen here are somewhat smaller; the largest is 45 kilometers wide, and the smallest 28 kilometers, reports the European Space Agency (ESA).
This curious triplet of craters likely formed due to the meteor that impacted the surface of Mars likely disintegrated into three pieces that slammed into the planet one after the other, creating, therefore, this unique feature on the red planet’s surface. This, if accurate, could help us prove that Mars was once a planet whose atmosphere was dense, allowing life to develop on its surface.
However, not all “multiple impactors” leave such clear and crisp features behind. Instead, many show elongated depressions, non-circular voids that lie very closely side by side, or only partially overlapping basins.
Scientists analyzing the footage gathered by Mars Express say that another explanation could be that what we see here is a coincidence: at different times, three separate impactors could have struck the surface of Mars at this location, creating an orderly overlap of craters entirely by chance.
The researchers say that if the curious craters were left behind by an object that disintegrated into three larger parts just before striking the surface, it would suggest that the atmosphere of Mars during the so-called Noachian era was much denser and much more difficult to penetrate.
This, on the other hand, reinforces the theory that billions of years ago, Mars was a much warmer and wetter planet compared to the one we see today.
Curiously, scientific observations made by numerous missions on Mars (both the surface and in orbit) support this point of view and provide evidence that water once flowed through the Red Planet in large quantities, revealing features such as ancient networks of river valleys and large lake basins believed to have formed in the Noah period.
Like many of the ancient and eroded craters in the southern highlands of Mars, these three craters have flattened edges, shallow floors, and have filled with sediment in the four billion years since their formation.
There is evidence of ice here too – the smaller crater has markings that are usually created when ice and debris creeps across a surface, similar to how mixed rock and ice glaciers or debris-covered ice glaciers move in alpine regions of the Earth, the European Space Agency has revealed.
Of all the places in the solar system, the most likely location where life could have existed–other than Earth–is Mars. Some experts even believe there could be life on Mars today–microbial life–located beneath the surface.
Future missions to Mars will help reveal what the red planet was like in the distant past, and whether there was, or still is life there. The ExoMars Rosalind Franklin rover and its surface science platform are set to touch down on the Martian surface in September 2022.
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Source and reference: ESA / All other sources are linked throughout this article-