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Splats on Mars!

Splats on Mars
Click for original image.

Cool image time! The picture to the right, cropped and sharpened to post here, was taken on February 3, 2023 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). It shows a number of crater splats of varying sizes. If you look at the full image, you will find several even bigger splats to the north of the one in the picture to the right. You will also see many more similar-sized crater splats to the south.

I cannot provide any confident explanation about what caused these splats, other than to assume that most here are secondary impacts from ejecta thrown out by a larger impact somewhere nearby. I also assume all these small impacts occurred at the same time because they all appear to have hit the ground when it had the same thick liquid consistency, a condition that was probably temporary. Note for example how many of the other craters in the full image do not have this same splattered look.

Overview map

The location, at 6.6 degrees south latitude and indicated by the yellow dot north of the Spirit landing site on the overview map to the right, makes it difficult to explain the cause of the splats. This latitude, in the dry equatorial regions, means these are not glacial features, nor will we find any near surface ice here. The location instead appears to be on the edge of the Medusae Fossae Formation, the largest volcanic ash deposit on Mars. If that ash was once damp, like mud, then it might have splattered as we see here, but if so, it was quite a long time ago.

It is also possible that this location is outside Medusae Fossae, and if so than we are likely looking at a plain of flood lava, something that is ubiquitous in this volcanic region of Mars. If the main and secondary impacts happened to occur when that lava was still liquid, the result might have been these splats.

I am guessing however, as I don’t have enough information to make a truly informed hypothesis.

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On Christmas Eve 1968 three Americans became the first humans to visit another world. What they did to celebrate was unexpected and profound, and will be remembered throughout all human history. Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.

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One comment

  • Max

    Perplexing, but I think you summed it up nicely. There are older craters with no splat and fully filled with smooth material, that are just low spots now, collecting Sandune‘s. (probably lava from the largest Impact crater at the top right that flooded the area creating a smooth plane?) or volcanic ash filling the older craters?… Or a fine dust (like powdered cement) that flowed like water?
    There are a few impact craters that went splat over the top of other splats with a similar consistency. But they appear to be very thick on the edges that cast deep shadows…. and the material in the ejected splat is far more then the size and depth of the crater that caused it. Very perplexing.
    (I would also note the slope streaks in the large crater, very numerous and fresh)

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