Colossal 'planet killer' asteroid sparked mega-tsunami on Mars, and now we know where it landed.


An artist's interpretation of a killer asteroid exploding on impact with the Red Planet. (Image credit: Shutterstock)

An massive asteroid that struck Mars some 3.4 billion years ago likely created a recently found impact crater, which may have caused an 800-foot-tall "mega-tsunami." According to a recent analysis, the massive explosion was comparable to the asteroid impact on Earth that killed out the nonavian dinosaurs.

Large, shallow waters blanketed Mars between 3.5 and 3 billion years ago. According to NASA, at that time, asteroids struck one of these seas, which originally covered Mars' northern lowlands (Vastitas Borealis), causing many mega-tsunamis (opens in new tab).

On the ancient coastline that formerly encircled the long-gone ocean, previous studies discovered evidence of at least two major wave episodes, including big bits of debris that swept ashore and rock patterns that presumably cut out as displaced water slowly drained back into the ocean. According to NASA, the first event probably happened about 3.4 billion years ago, while the second probably developed approximately 3 billion years ago when Mars' waters started to dry up.

A new impact crater called Pohl was discovered by planetary scientists in a research that was released on December 1 in the journal Scientific Reports(opens in new tab). This crater is a very likely candidate for the source of the first of the mega-tsunamis. Pohl is about 68 miles (110 km) broad and is thought to be 394 feet (120 m) below the current sea level. Surrounding the enormous impact structure are rocks that date back 3.4 billion years.

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An artist's interpretation of what Mars may have looked like when it was covered in vast shallow oceans. (Image credit: Shutterstock)

Based on Pohl's dimensions, scientists think that the asteroid that created the crater had a diameter of between 1.9 and 5.6 miles (3 and 9 kilometers) and that it had the potential to produce up to 13 million megatons of TNT energy. For comparison, the Tsar bomba, the most powerful nuclear weapon ever used on Earth, delivered around 50 megatons of TNT energy.

The research team then reconstructed the enormous wave that would have been produced by this enormous hit using computer models. The waves may have been as high as 820 feet (250 meters), and they may have gone as far as 932 miles (1,500 km) from the crater. The scientists claimed in a statement that these waves would have been powerful enough to leave behind the geological evidence previously unearthed by earlier studies (opens in new tab).

According to the experts, there are some striking parallels between this enormous impact structure and the Chicxulub crate, which was left behind by the asteroid impact that caused the nonavian dinosaurs to die extinct 66 million years ago.

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Geological evidence surrounding the shorelines of an ancient ocean show that Mars experienced multiple mega-tsunamis. (Image credit: Shutterstock)

Compared to Pohl, the Yucatán Peninsula's Chicxulub crater is much bigger, measuring about 112 miles (180 km). It was created by a larger asteroid that was about 7.5 miles (12 km) broad. In addition, the Chicxulub asteroid came to rest on top of a once-deep ocean on Earth that was 656 feet (200 meters) deep. Two separate studies published in October revealed that the Chicxulub impact also set off a mega-earthquake that shook the globe for months and a mega-tsunami with waves that reached mile-high heights.

Researchers had previously discovered a probable impact crater for Martian mega-tsunamis. A different group of scientists hypothesized in 2019 that the Lomonosov crater, which is around 90 miles (145 km) wide, was created by an impactor that may have triggered a mega-tsunami.

It is uncertain which mega-tsunami the impactor may have sparked or even whether the impact occurred while seas were present since the Lomonosov crater has not been properly dated.

Also Read: Who owns the moon?

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