The ESA has given a glimpse of the Lowell Crater in never before seen detail. The huge dent in the side of the planet stretches more than 200 kilometres across, and is believe to be around 3.9 billion years old. The crater has been named after US mathematician, astronomer and writer Percival Lowell, who founded the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, in 1894.
ESA established the stunning image through seven different Mars Express satellite flybys of the crater, which were merged into one spectacular photo.
Surrounding the Lowell Crater are huge mountains, which were created when a large asteroid pummelled into the region of Mars known as Aonia Terra, within the planet’s ancient southern highlands.
The ESA said: “This so-called ‘peak ring’ is thought to have formed along with the crater. The immense energy of a large impact event causes material to surge upwards before collapsing down again, forming the kind of complex morphology seen here, with an irregular mountain range encircling the crater’s centre, inside the main crater rim.”
Scientists at the ESA have compared it to the Chicxulub crater – the impact site in Mexico from when an asteroid wiped out the dinosaurs 66 million years ago.
The ESA said: “Studies and simulations of Chicxulub, which is around the same size as Lowell crater, have shown a peak ring that formed as a huge, unstable central peak later collapsed.”
Dr Lowell was the first to popularise the theory that Mars was criss-crossed by a series of canals which were believed to have been created by an intelligent society on the Red Planet.
The ESA explained: “The idea was initially proposed by Italian scientist Giovanni Schiaparelli, who noted the presence of dark lines on Mars in observations from the 1870s.
“Schiaparelli described these features as canali, later translated not as ‘channels’ or ‘gullies’, but as ‘canals’ – a phrase that hinted at a somewhat more artificial origin.”
For this reason, Dr Lowell established the Lowell observatory, but it turned out the ‘canals’ were an optical illusion when experts observed dark lines of mountain ranges on the Red Planet.