Origin of the structure and planform of small impact craters in fractured targets: Endurance Crater at Meridiani Planum, Mars

Wesley A. Watters, John P. Grotzinger, James Bell, John Grant, Alex G. Hayes, Rongxing Li, Steven W. Squyres, Maria T. Zuber

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


We present observations and models that together explain many hallmarks of the structure and growth of small impact craters forming in targets with aligned fractures. Endurance Crater at Meridiani Planum on Mars (diameter ≈ 150. m) formed in horizontally-layered aeolian sandstones with a prominent set of wide, orthogonal joints. A structural model of Endurance Crater is assembled and used to estimate the transient crater planform. The model is based on observations from the Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity: (a) bedding plane orientations and layer thicknesses measured from stereo image pairs; (b) a digital elevation model of the whole crater at 0.3. m resolution; and (c) color image panoramas of the upper crater walls. This model implies that the crater's current shape was mostly determined by highly asymmetric excavation rather than long-term wind-mediated erosion. We show that modal azimuths of conjugate fractures in the surrounding rocks are aligned with the square component of the present-day crater planform, suggesting excavation was carried farther in the direction of fracture alignments. This was previously observed at Barringer Crater in Arizona and we show the same relationship also holds for Tswaing Crater in South Africa. We present models of crater growth in which excavation creates a " stellate" transient cavity that is concave-cuspate in planform. These models reproduce the " lenticular-crescentic" layering pattern in the walls of some polygonal impact craters such as Endurance and Barringer Craters, and suggest a common origin for tear faults and some crater rays. We also demonstrate a method for detailed error analysis of stereogrammetric measurements of bedding plane orientations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)472-497
Number of pages26
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Geological processes
  • Impact processes
  • Mars, Surface

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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