New research by scientists at Curtin University confirms that the frequency of asteroid collisions that formed impact craters on Mars has been consistent over the past 600 million years.
Published in the journal Earth and Planetry Science Letters, the study analyzed the formation of more than 500 large Martian craters using a crater detection algorithm previously developed at the University, which automatically counts visible impact craters in a high-resolution image.
While previous studies had suggested spikes in the frequency of asteroid collisions, the new approach, whose lead researcher is Anthony Lagain of Curtin's School of Earth and Planetary Sciences, found that they didn't vary much for many millions of years.
Lagain said counting impact craters on a planetary surface was the only way to accurately date geological events such as canyons, rivers and volcanoes and predict when, and how big, future collisions would be.
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“On Earth, the erosion of tectonic plates erases the history of our planet. Studying planetary bodies in our Solar System that still retain their early geological history, such as Mars, helps us understand the evolution of our planet,” said Lagain. "The crater detection algorithm gives us a complete understanding of impact crater formation, including their size and quantity, and the timing and frequency of the asteroid collisions that made them."
Algorithm can be used to analyze craters on the Moon
According to Lagain, previous studies pointed out that there was a spike in the time and frequency of asteroid collisions due to the production of debris. "When large bodies collide, they break into pieces or debris, which is believed to have an effect on the creation of impact craters," the researcher said. "Our study shows that the debris is unlikely to result in any change in impact crater formation on planetary surfaces."
Co-author and leader of the team that created the algorithm, Professor Gretchen Benedix revealed that the algorithm could also be adapted to work on other planetary surfaces, including the Moon.
"The formation of thousands of lunar craters can now be automatically dated, and their formation frequency analyzed at a higher resolution to investigate their evolution," Benedix said. "This will provide us with valuable information that could have future practical applications in nature conservation and agriculture, such as forest fire detection and land use classification."
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