The violent impact of a space rock on the Martian surface creates a compellingly beautiful image, but good thing no one's home up there.
Freelancer Michael Franco writes about the serious and silly sides of science and technology for CNET and other pixel and paper pubs. He's kept his fingers on the keyboard while owning a B&B in Amish country, managing an eco-resort in the Caribbean, sweating in Singapore, and rehydrating (with beer, of course) in Prague. E-mail Michael.
Here's the problem with living on Mars someday: You're sitting in your lawn chair in your fully self-contained envirosuit, sipping a marstini (see what I did there?) through your suit's built-in straw module and then WHAM! A space rock slams into the ground next to you ruining a perfectly good time.
It's likely to happen, as NASA recently concluded that space rocks causing craters in excess of 12 feet in diameter rocket into the planet about 200 times per year. Mars lacks Earth's protective atmosphere, so instead of burning up at higher altitudes, the rocks are free to fall straight into the Martian soil and -- blammo! -- there goes cocktail hour.
One of the most recent impacts to our red neighbor, seen in the photo above, was caught by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera that's attached to NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The photo was taken in November but just released this week, and the impact to the Martian surface was believed to have taken place sometime between July 2010 and May 2012.
Debris (known as ejecta) from the space rock is thought to have been thrown as far away as 9.3 miles from the impact site, which (for those of you who want to Martian-GPS it), was at 3.7 degrees north latitude, 53.4 degrees east longitude.
The HiRISE camera is one of six instruments on NASA's Orbiter, which has been circling Mars since early 2006. The camera was developed by scientists at the University of Arizona and is the most powerful camera to ever orbit another planet. This is not the first time the camera has sent back striking images of our planetary neighbor. Just check out the spectacular images here.
By the way, Mars' misfortune is good news for astronomy buffs, who can download an image of the new crater for use as computer wallpaper here.