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Stunning Mars spacecraft photo reveals recent impact crater on Red Planet

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A recent photo taken of the Mars surface via the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) has revealed to scientists a relatively new impact crater on the Red Planet's surface. NASA scientists unveiled the photo of the rather stunning image of the crater Wednesday (Feb. 5), noting that the image was taken in November but had only recently grabbed the attention of NASA scientists perusing Mars surface photos.

Space.com reported (via Yahoo News) Feb. 5 that scientists know the impact feature was created sometime between July 2010 and May 2012, because other MRO observations show major changes to the area, including the formation of the crater, between those two dates.

"The crater spans approximately 100 feet (30 meters) in diameter and is surrounded by a large, rayed blast zone," NASA officials described the new photographic find. "Because the terrain where the crater formed is dusty, the fresh crater appears blue in the enhanced color of the image, due to removal of the reddish dust in that area."

The photo displays a crater proper spanning about 30 (meters) 100 feet in diameter. The asteroid or comet that created the crater ejected planetary material as far as 9.3 miles (15 kilometers) away from the impact site, NASA official noted.

For those interested in the Mars crater's exact position, it is situated at 3.7 degrees north latitude and 53.4 degrees east longitude.

Scientists have known for some time that Mars is constantly bombarded with meteors, asteroids, cometary castoff, and space rocks, sometimes as many as 200 or more annually that create craters on the Martian surface that span at least 3.9 meters (12.8 feet). But, NASA says, "few of the scars are as dramatic in appearance as this one."

Analyzing before-and-after imaging helped scientists reach their conclusions.

For those who might be worried that a meteor or asteroid like the one that struck Mars could hit Earth, rest assured that they do so all the time. However, unlike Mars, Earth has a relatively thick atmosphere that helps defend against impacts from cosmic missiles about the size of the one that hit the Red Planet. Most large space rocks either burn up (think: shooting stars and meteor showers) and/or detonate in Earth's atmosphere (think: the 2013 meteor explosion over Chelyabinsk, Russia), although a few resistant travelers get through, more often as not landing in some body of water or crashing into a remote region.

In contrast, Mars' atmosphere is relatively nonexistent in comparison, giving little to impede the progress of a wayward asteroid or meteor. This means that objects hurtling toward the Martian surface generally stay about the same size as when traveling through space. With Mars' predominantly rocky surface, an impact from a space object moving at thousands of miles per hour would produce craters with spectacular results -- as is evidenced by the NASA photo.

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