From a 5-millimetre dent on a satellite to a 3-kilometre pit in the surface of Mars, the scars of impact events can be seen at every scale. We present a gallery of some particularly appealing ones from Earth and beyond.
The online version of this Gallery feature is available as a slideshow - click here to see the pics.
It is unusual for a Chevrolet Malibu to be hit by a meteorite, as Michelle Knapp's was in 1992; but the surface of a satellite such as the Long Duration Exposure Facility, which was in orbit for six years, can expect a pounding. And so can the surface of Earth. Meteor Crater in Arizona, which at 50,000 years old is relatively young and nicely preserved in the desert climate, was one of the first craters to have its impact origin recognized. Many others have since joined it, such as 10-kilometre-wide Bosumtwi, a million years old, which contains Ghana's only natural lake. Human experience of cratered landscapes has now extended to other planets, as shown by this panorama of Victoria on Mars, produced by the rover Opportunity before it ventured into the crater's depths.
Large impacts can change planetary surfaces profoundly. The rings that surround the Valhalla basin on Callisto, a moon of Jupiter, take up roughly one-tenth of its surface. The basalts that fill lunar basins, such as those in Oceanus Procellarum, give Earth's satellite its 'seas' — themselves peppered with smaller craters, such as Euclides. A large enough impact can completely destroy its target; those that left the 9-kilometre-wide Stickney crater, on Mars's moon Phobos, and the 130-kilometre-wide Herschel, on Saturn's moon Mimas, came close.
Sometimes, though, it is the impactor that comes to pieces: crater chains such as Enki Catena on the jovian moon Ganymede were probably formed by comet fragments crashing in one after the other. Zumba crater on Mars has a special claim to fame: it is possible that this relatively recent impact threw up into space some of the rocks that have now fallen to Earth as martian meteorites.
About this article
Cite this article
Gallery feature: All craters great and small. Nature 453, 1170–1175 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1038/4531170a