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Home > History & Science > Breathtaking impact craters

In the early stages of the formation of our solar system, the lumps of matter orbiting around the sun took a heavy beating from thousands of meteoroids and asteroids. Some of these would survive to later become the moons and planets we know today. Those that are not gas giants have kept a record of these impacts dating back millions of years for us explore with our satellites and observatories. Out of these many collisions, I have compiled a collection of the most breathtaking high-velocity impact craters that exsist in our solar system.


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1) Herschel, Mimas

Herschel is a huge impact crater on the Saturnian moon of Mimas, which is named after William Herschel, the astronomer who discovered Mimas in 1789. It is 10km deep and has a width of 139km, which is approximately 1/3 the size of the moon it resides on, making it a prominent feature of the landscape. The crater is so large in relation to the size of Mimas in fact, that it is somewhat baffling the impact did not completely decimate the moon entirely. On an equivalent scale, the crater would be wider than Canada if it had occurred on Earth. Many astronomers have noted the striking resemblance of this moon with that of the Death Star in the Star Wars franchise. However, it is not possible that the Death Star was based on this moon as the Herschel crater was not discovered until several years after the national release of Star Wars IV.

mimas moon hershel crater

2) Stickney, Phobos

Stickney crater is a truly striking phenomenon on the tiny Martian moon of Phobos. As you can see from the below photograph taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, the size of the crater is huge in relation to the size of the moon it exists on. It even has a smaller crater within in it named Limtoc that is approximately 1.2 miles in diameter. Scientists have speculated that the crater is such a prominent feature on the surface on the moon that it is entirely feasible that it could be viewed from the surface of Mars with the naked eye. Phobos is one of the least most reflective bodies in the solar system, mimicking that of a D-type asteroid. For this reason, although the Phobos was discovered in 1877, the Stickney crater was not given a name until the first photographs of the 1973 mission of Mariner 9 were taken.

stickney crater

3) Odysseus, Tethys

Odysseus is a huge crater 2/5ths the size of the Saturnian moon it resides on, Tethys. It is 445km across, and is appropriately named after the ancient Greek hero of the same name. Although very wide in diameter, the crater is relatively shallow in relation to its proportional size at around 3km deep on average. It has been argued the crater that existed immediately after the point of impact must have been substantially deeper, but over time the floor has relaxed to mimic the spherical shape of Tethy’s surface. For this reason, many scientists believe the moon must have been a lot warmer and malleable at the time of impact for this to occur, as if it were colder and more brittle as it is now, it is quite likely the moon would have shattered under such a strong impact.

tethys crater

4) Tycho, The Moon

Tycho is a large impact crater located in the southern lunar highlands that is named after the 16th Century Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe, and has a diameter of approximately 85km. It is such a prominent feature on the surface of the moon that it has been featured on lunar maps since the mid 17th Century. Based on analysis of samples recovered by the Apollo 17 mission in 1972, it has an estimated age of 108 million years, which is relatively young compared to other impact craters on the lunar surface. As you can see in the below photograph, there are so many craters in the immediate area around it that it overlaps many older meteor impacts. Infrared observations which are regularly made of the lunar surface during an eclipse have revealed that Tycho reduces in temperature at a slower rate than the rest of the surface, indicating a difference of material that are exposed to sunlight between the two environments.

tycho crater moon

5) Meteor Crater, Arizona, USA

Meteor Crater, sometimes referred to as Barringer Crater, after Daniel Barringer, the geologist who was first to propose the crater was formed by the impact of meteorite, is located 43 miles east of Flagstaff, Arizona. Although small compared to other impact craters in the solar system with a diameter of around 1.1km, it is a truly breathtaking site to cast your eyes upon. Situated in the middle of the desert, and produced 40,000 years ago by a nickel-iron meteorite travelling from somewhere between 28,000 and 45,000mph, the impact would have been nothing short of spectacular to have witnessed when it occured. Interestingly, at the time of impact, the surrounding Colorado Plateau was experiencing the end of the Pleistocene epoch, which meant the local ecology was covered in mostly grassland, and paraded by mammoths and camels. Today the crater is a tourist attraction that is privately owned by the Barringer family. Visitors are able to touch specimens of the Canyon Diablo Meteorite.

meteor crater arizona

6) Mare Imbrium, The Moon

Mare Imbrium is a huge, dark, basaltic plain on the Moon approximately 1,123km in diameter that was created millions of years ago when lava flooded a gigantic crater that was produced by a huge surface impact. It is the largest of its kind on the lunar surface that is associated with an impact basin. It is not as flat as it once was due to subsequent events over the millennia that altered its surface. The basin is surrounded by three concentric rings of mountains that were created by the enormous amount of force that was exerted upon the lunar surface by the impact. Some of these mountain ranges are hundreds of kilometres long. The word “Mare” is Latin for “Sea of Showers”, as upon initial observation of this region hundreds of years ago by astronomers, the basin was first thought to be a sea.

mare imbrium crater

7) Chicxulub, Mexico

The Chiczulub impact hit the Earth with mind shattering force, the equivalent of 100 terra tons of TNT, which resulted in devastating tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, and an eruption of material that threw millions of tons of dirt up into the atmosphere which blocked out the Sun’s life giving energy. Recently in March 2010, following extensive analysis of evidence covering 20 years' worth of collected data spanning many fields of academia, including palaeontology, geochemistry, climate modelling, geophysics and sedimentology, 41 international experts from 33 institutions concluded that the impact at Chicxulub triggered the mass extinction of the dinosaurs.

Chicxulub even

8) Gander, Mars

Gander crater is named after the town Gander, Newfoundland, Canada. It is one of over seventy five extraterrestrial features in the solar system that have been named after Canadians or Canadan towns by the Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature. It has a diameter of approximately 38 kilometres, and is a distinct feature of the Hellas Planitia basin, which is a prominent impact basin in the Martian southern hemisphere that is a massive 2,300km across in diameter.

hellas platia crater

9) Lonar crater, India

Similar to Meteor Crater in Arizona, Lonar Crater was created by a meteorite hitting the Earth during the Pleistocene epoch, although several thousand years earlier, which in geological terms is equivalent to micro-seconds in comparison to the lifespan of a human. It is the only known hypervelocity impact crater on basalt rock in the world, and has a diameter of around 1.8km. Today, a lake has emerged in the centre of the basin which has strong traces of saline and alkaline. Unlike its American counterpart it does not enjoy the same publicity in the media and is therefore less well known among the general public. Nevertheless, the Lonar Crater is a spectacular feature on the landscape of the Buldana district where it resides.

lonar crater india

10) Huygens, Mars

This gigantic Martian impact crater with a diameter of 456km was named after the prominent 17th Century Dutch astronomer, mathematician, and physicist Christiaan Huygens. The crater is located in the lapygia quadrangle, which is one of a series of 30 quadrangle maps of Mars that is used by the United States Geoligical Survey’s Astrogeology Research Program. From recent photographs taken by spacecraft orbiting the planet, it was revealed there is a network of branched channels emanating around the crater. The existence of this network awards great credence to the theory that water once flowed across this location on the surface, enabling the possibility that micro organisms once flourished in the streams and rivers. The recent THEMIS mission, launched in 2007 to study energy releases from Earth’s magnetosphere, has further enhanced our understanding of this network of channels.

Huygens cater mars
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