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NASA spots Mars meteoroid's wild dark avalanche

This Mars impact crater is on a streak.


The dark streak is from the impact destabilizing the ground.

NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

It looks like the shadow of a comet or a splash of dark paint dragged across the landscape. It looks out of place. NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter captured a view of Mars showing an impact crater and its unusual aftermath. 

The crater itself is visible as a fuzzy, round area with a slash of dark material leading away from it. This black area is a slope streak, the result of an avalanche triggered by the impact of a meteoroid. "Slope streaks are created when dry dust avalanches leave behind dark swaths on dusty Martian hills," says NASA.

The crater measures about 16 feet (5 meters) across, but the slope streak stretches out over 3,200 feet (1 kilometer). The crater is relatively new, with the meteoroid likely having crashed down within the past decade. 

The MRO acquired the image in February and NASA posted about it this week. The MRO HiRISE camera team shared the image on Twitter, describing the avalanche action as a "Bang and Whoosh!"

NASA launched the MRO in 2005. The camera on board the orbiting spacecraft has given us some spectacular views of the red planet, including a set of "scratch marks" and a unusual deep pit. The impact crater and avalanche image is a delightful new entry in Mars' catalog of landscape wonders.