Disappearing Craters
Disappearing Craters
ESP_014097_1120  Science Theme: Glacial/Periglacial Processes
Impact craters that form at high latitudes often disappear faster than those that form in equatorial regions. The craters in this image are only barely detectable.

Over time, craters in ice, particularly large craters, "relax." Their depth-to-diameter ratio decreases as the bowl of the crater gets shallower with time. The craters slowly appear softer and smoother, fading into the surrounding landscape, until they remain only as circular patterns on flat ground, before they eventually disappear altogether. The larger the crater, the faster it will relax.

The reason for the crater degradation is partly due to in-filling by snow or dust and slumping off of the crater walls, and also partly from processes that produce the patterned ground you see in this HiRISE image. But the primary reason for the shallowing is because the ground at high latitudes on Mars is ice-rich, and ice is not very strong. At warmer temperatures found in the inner solar system, ice generally flows more easily than rock, so ice cannot support the structure of the crater as well as rock. The crater relaxes as the ice begins to flow back to a level surface.

All of the processes listed above have likely acted on these craters, and recently, they have also been swept by dust devils, which left dark streaks in their wake.

Written by: Andrea Philippoff  (14 October 2009)
Acquisition date
29 July 2009

Local Mars time

Latitude (centered)

Longitude (East)

Spacecraft altitude
247.6 km (153.9 miles)

Original image scale range
24.8 cm/pixel (with 1 x 1 binning) so objects ~74 cm across are resolved

Map projected scale
25 cm/pixel

Map projection

Emission angle

Phase angle

Solar incidence angle
56°, with the Sun about 34° above the horizon

Solar longitude
312.2°, Northern Winter

For non-map projected images
North azimuth:  99°
Sub-solar azimuth:  48.6°
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Black & white is 5 km across; enhanced color about 1 km
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All of the images produced by HiRISE and accessible on this site are within the public domain: there are no restrictions on their usage by anyone in the public, including news or science organizations. We do ask for a credit line where possible:
NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif., manages the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington. The HiRISE camera was built by Ball Aerospace and Technology Corporation and is operated by the University of Arizona.