Impact Craters on Earth: Lessons for Understanding Martian Geological Materials and Processes
Abstract:Impact cratering is one of the most ubiquitous geological processes in the Solar System and has had a significant influence on the geological evolution of Mars. Unlike the Moon and Mercury, the Martian impact cratering record is notably diverse, which is interpreted to reflect interactions during the impact process with target volatiles and/or the atmosphere. The Earth also possesses a volatile-rich crust and an atmosphere and so is one of the best analogues for understanding the effects of impact cratering on Mars. Furthermore, fieldwork at terrestrial craters and analysis of samples is critical to ground-truth observations made based on remote sensing data from Martian orbiters, landers, and rovers.
In recent years, the effect of target lithology on various aspects of the impact cratering process has emerged as a major research topic. On Mars, volatiles have been invoked to be the primary factor influencing the morphology of ejecta deposits – e.g., the formation of single-, double- and multiple-layered ejecta deposits – and central uplifts – e.g., the formation of so-called “central pit” craters. Studies of craters on Earth have also shown that volatiles complicate the identification of impactites – i.e., rocks produced and/or affected by impact cratering. Identifying impactites on Earth is challenging, often requiring intensive and multi-technique laboratory analysis of hand specimens. As such, it is even more challenging to recognize such materials in remote datasets.
Here, observations from the Haughton (d = 23 km; Canada), Ries (d = 24 km; Germany), Mistastin (d = 28 km; Canada), Tunnunik, (d = 28 km; Canada), and West Clearwater Lake (d = 36 km; Canada) impact structures are presented. First, it is shown that some impactites mimic intrusive, volcanic, volcanoclastic and in some cases sedimentary clastic rocks. Care should, therefore, be taken in the identification of seemingly unusual igneous rocks at rover landing sites as they may represent impact melt rocks. Second, it is proposed that layered ejecta deposits on Earth and Mars form from a common multi-stage emplacement model. Third, in terms of the origin of central pit craters it is shown that based on current definitions, these central uplift morphologies also occur on Earth, which offers important insights in their formation.