Since the time billions of years ago when Mars was formed, it has never been a spherically symmetric planet, nor is it composed of similar materials throughout, say scientists who have studied the planet. Since its formation, it has changed its shape, for example, through the development of the Tharsis bulge, an eight kilometer [five mile] high feature that covers one-sixth of the Martian surface, and through volcanic activity. As a result of these and other factors, its polar axis has not been stable relative to surface features and is known to have wandered through the eons as Mars rotated around it and revolved around the Sun.
Now, a Canadian researcher has calculated the location of Mars ancient poles, based upon the location of five giant impact basins on the planets surface. Jafar Arkani-Hamed of McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, has determined that these five basins, named Argyre, Hellas, Isidis, Thaumasia, and Utopia, all lie along the arc of a great circle. This suggests that the projectiles that caused the basins originated with a single source and that the impacts trace the Martian equator at the time of impact, which was prior to the development of the Tharsis bulge, he says.
Writing in the Journal of Geophysical Research (Planets), Arkani-Hamed calculates that the source of the five projectiles was an asteroid that had been circling the Sun in the same plane as Mars and most of the other planets. At one point, it passed close to the planet, until the force of Martian gravity surpassed the tensile strength of the asteroid, at which point it fragmented. The five large fragments would have remained in the same plane, that of Mars then-equator. They hit in different spots around the Martian globe, due to Mars rotation on its then-axis and the differing lengths of time the fragments took before impacting on Mars.
Harvey Leifert | EurekAlert!
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