Butterfly Craters on Mars, Mercury, Moon Reveal Similarities and Differences

Butterfly Craters on Mars, Mercury, Moon Reveal Similarities and Differences

Unusual butterfly-shaped craters on Mars, Mercury and the Moon can give an overview of the three worlds surfaces, and even suggest the presence of a third window that could previously orbiting the red planet, new research shows.

Research comparing these butterfly features on the three objects in the solar system helps identify the similarities and differences of the body and to help scientists understand the conditions in the world where materials are crushed and insect models created.

“The combination of these two [features] gives us what looks like butterfly wings,” said Robert Herrick of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, at Space.com. Herrick has used up-to-date observations of Mars, Mercury and the Moon to make a more complete study of objects striking surfaces at low angles, forming butterflies and other unusual shapes. He presented his findings to the Conference of Lunar and Planetary Sciences in The Woodlands, Texas, in March.

NASA’s Viking orbiter collected images of crater butterflies on Mars in the 1970s while Apolllo missions have captured evidence of similar craters on the Moon in the 1960s and 1970s. The elongated body cratered craters did reveal low angles of batting, Which crashed on the ground at relatively low speeds. Slowly, as they rushed into the area, they blew the material into the air.

The ejection pattern in this Mars butterfly crater formed as blowing material created two “forbidden zones” ahead and behind the crater in which nothing returned to the surface. Resultant debris left a butterfly model.
The ejection pattern in this Mars butterfly crater formed as blowing material created two “forbidden zones” ahead and behind the crater in which nothing returned to the surface. Resultant debris left a butterfly model.
Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / ASU
But debris does not fall evenly around the site. Small footprint impacts and deceleration create “forbidden zones” or wedge-shaped regions through and beyond the object without introducing ejected material. While ejected greatly fall from the sides, the floor in front and behind the impactor remains free of debris. The result is the unusual shape of butterflies.

While laboratory experiments have recreated most forms of butterflies observed in nature with sufficient attention, Herrick said they are not perfect replicas. “We’re still working to understand what’s going on,” he said. Replication defects allowed in the lab is still a challenge, which is suspicious hardware Herrick-related surface, he said.

Material blown into the air by impact can melt or vaporize quickly, which affects how it falls on the ground. Herrick suggested that the presence of ice below the surface of Mars could affect how the materials fall to the surface around elongated craters. Detailed crater comments and their features can help resolve some of the mysteries surrounding them, he said.

During the decades since NASA’s Apollo and Viking missions, space agencies have sent out other missions to visit the three rocky worlds. Herrick looked at mercury images of NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft as well as more detailed images of various missions to the Moon and Mars to extract a more complete list of the population of unusual craters. He compared some of the best preserved craters in them to see how the features differ in all three worlds.

Due to active erosion from wind and water (in the past) on Mars, more unusual craters on Mars degrade, Herrick said. However, because Mercury and the Moon have essentially no atmosphere, craters tend to remain longer virgins, he said. At the same time, Mars is the largest of the three bodies, and this affects the amount of gravitationally drawn to the surface of the material. Consequently, it has a larger population of elongated craters.

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