Impact crater on Mars
© NASA/JPL/UA
Impact crater on Mars.
The surface of Mars is a well worn place in the Solar System, heavily pounded by countless meteor impacts. And some of these craters are hundreds of millions of years old. So it's unusual for there to be a completely fresh impact on the surface of Mars: but that's just what NASA scientists discovered looking through a recent batch of images returned from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

You're looking at an image taken by the Mars Context Camera, an instrument on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. In an older photograph taken of the region in February 2012, there was just a bunch of old craters. And then, in the newer image, taken June 2014, this fresh scar on the surface of Mars is clearly visible.

Impact crater on Mars_1
© NASA/JPL/UA
No crater… then crater.
The crater itself is circular, but the blast of ejecta indicates that the object came in from the West, and struck the surface of Mars, blasting out a curtain of pulverized rock that covered the nearby surface. The impactor would have vaporized into a fireball of superheated rock, like a nuclear bomb exploding on the surface of Mars, while the eject blanket was shot out to the side.

This isn't the first time spacecraft have detected new craters on Mars. In fact, the largest new crater discovered was half the length of a football field. And so far, researchers have turned up more than 400 new craters on the surface of Mars.

The Mars Context Camera has completely imaged the entire surface of Mars at least once during its 7-year mission. And with multiple passes, planetary scientists are starting to build up a picture of how the dynamic the surface of Mars can really be.
Impact crater on Mars_2
© NASA/JPL/UA
Largest new crater ever discovered.
And of course, planetary scientists have discovered fresh craters on other locations in the Solar System. NASA's Lunar Impact Monitoring Program turned up a bright meteoroid impact on March 17, 2013, and follow on observations by NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter turned up the impact location. The monitoring program has actually turned up more than 300 impacts so far. So if you're walking around on the Moon, watch your head.
Impact crater on Mars_3
© NASA
Bright impact flash made by a foot-wide rock that struck the moon on March 17, 2013. The moon was a crescent in the evening sky at the time. The impact occurred in the dark, earthlit part of the moon away from the sun-lit crescent.
Impact crater on Mars_4
© NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University/Bob King
Left: Fresh material brought to the surface makes the new 59-foot-wide crater look like it was spray painted white. Right: The meteoroid strike occurred near the familiar crater Copernicus in the Sea of Rains (Mare Imbrium).
Source: NASA/JPL News Release