Terraced Craters on Mars

Check out this unusual crater on Mars. It’s not a very big one, less than 500 meters in diameter, and yet it has two rings. Most craters on Mars this size are simple bowl shapes. What’s going on here?

Terraced crater on Mars

NASA / JPL / UA / Emily Lakdawalla

Terraced crater on Mars

The terraced floor of this crater makes it look like a nested pair of craters. In fact, it is a clue to a layered subsurface.

One possibility is that we’re looking at a nested pair of craters — one happening to strike dead center in the middle of another. But that doesn’t explain the otherwise flat floor of the larger crater, and requires quite a coincidence. Instead, it’s more likely we’re looking at a spot on Mars where the ground is layered. There’s an upper layer with different mechanical properties than the lower layer. To oversimplify, the upper layer is weaker than the lower layer, so the impactor can dig a bigger hole out of it.

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