back to article Boffins baffled by mysterious Martian crater

New photos gleaned by the Mars Express spacecraft in orbit about the red planet have failed to shed any light on the origins of an "enigmatic" elongated crater named Orcus Patera. The Martian crater Orcus Patera. Credit: ESA Interstellar alien spaceship prang skidmark? Orcus Patera lies on the border of Mars' Elysium and …


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  1. CADmonkey

    Or maybe.... was Dave 'Cinzano Bianco' Lister.

    1. Z 1

      Thumbs up

      10 million points to you sir, for making me laugh with an excellent red dwarf reference!

  2. Bit Brain

    See if you can find any chicken bones... might be a Quagaar warship.

    (mine's the one with the bazookoid in the pocket)

  3. Paul Crawford Silver badge


    No, more likely they had problems with their Newtonian reaction drive (aka 'rocket') and decided to take of using warp drive, making a bit of a mess of the planet's surface...

  4. yakitoo


    decidedly whale shaped to me.

    1. GrahamT

      And another thing...

      The large crater above could have been made by a bowl of petunias.

      1. Anonymous Coward

        There are two large craters above....

        That's why the bowl of petunias said "Not again".

    2. sT0rNG b4R3 duRiD
      Thumb Up


      I suppose... It even looks slightly oily ... from the blubber I suspect

  5. Anonymous Coward


    ... I reckon it's the alien equivalent of the ratboys in comically pimped vauxhall novas pulling doughnuts in tesco's carpark.

    I for one welcome our new chavvy be-tentacled overlords.

  6. BorkedAgain

    Right. So that's PARIS Mk2's mission brief sorted then.

    That is all.

  7. smudge

    I know who knows...

    No doubt this will be about the 20th comment saying "Where's AManFromMars when you need him?".

    1. Aaron Em

      I dunno...

      ...but I think you can see his house from up here.

      Probably easier to make out in the full-res photo, though.

    2. seven of five


      He can´t post, had his ride wrecked...

  8. NoneSuch Silver badge

    Inter-Planetary Cover-up?

    The X-37B goes missing for two weeks then this gets reported? Too much of a coincidence for me.

    Quite obviously, the staff at the Reg are trying to cover up the existence of the DARPA sponsored, CIA black budget financed, militarized version of PARIS which got a wee bit off course and created the embarrassing crater. Those titanium straw tubes, Kevlar stealth covering and Maverick missile warheads pack quite a whallop when moving at Mach 15.

  9. Ian Ferguson

    Looks to me

    Like Noah's ark.

    Well, an interplanetary version anyway. Maybe the Golgafrincham B Ark hit the wrong planet after all?

    1. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge

      Or it was the ship at Milliways

      which looked like a fish, moved like a fish, but steered like a cow (the one that crashed into the third moon of Jaglan Beta).

  10. David Given
    Thumb Up

    ...a particularly radical version of atmospheric braking...

    Apparently this is known in the trade as 'lithobraking'.

  11. Elmer Phud

    It's obvious innit

    It's the footprint of God.

    A mono-pedal God who only took one small step (well, half) before buggering off again

    1. Pirate Dave Silver badge


      it was one small step for God, one giant leap for Godkind ?

      Or perhaps it was a God-sized game of planetary hopscotch. I can't imagine he really likes to spend all eternity being stuffy and God-like ALL the time. At some point, dropping little buggers into the big pit has gotta get boring as hell. Yeah, it's funny the first few million times to hear them screaming and begging as you let go, but after a while, well, perhaps a change of scenery is just the thing.

      whassat burning smell?

  12. multipharious

    Got any of that Plutonian Nyborg left?

    Ah, just one's in the transmitter compartment.

    You think that's enough?

    Nah, go for broke.

    Good thinking man.

  13. amanfromearth

    Yes Lewis..

    .. keep taking the pills.

    That's quite a large spaceship to leave a crater 380 km long by 140 km wide.

    1. Emilio Desalvo


      ... That was not a moon...

    2. Brutus


      About as big as the asteroid they used for stealthing the beast.

    3. Chemist

      Re : That's quite a large spaceship

      Depends on how big the aliens are !

      I, for one, welcome our Brodbingagian ? Brobdingnagian ??( Oh bugger - big-endian) overlords

  14. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

    Think of how big that metor had to have been.

    I know Mars doesn't have a very thick atmosphere, but do hit the surface at that angle, the impactor must have spent an awful lot of time traveling through it at some pretty high velocities. The initial size of that hunk of rock must have been pretty impressive to survive the atmospheric friction for as long as would have been required before making that scrape.

    Even more so if it bounced off the planet. Maybe one of those two kidney stones Mars calls moons is responsible? Or depending on the composition of those two hunks of rock, maybe they are /both/ responsible, having originally been chunks of the initial impactor?

    Might explain how they got there in the first place. The prevailing theory is "captured asteroid," but the reasonably rapidly decaying orbits would seem to indicate that it's possible they could be the result of an impact like this. Skipped off the surface, broke up, and didn't quite make a fully stable orbit.

    Considering the unknowns surrounding the origin of those two (I refuse to call them “moons”) it’s as plausible a theory as any…

    1. M Gale

      Very, very interesting theory..

      ..however, wouldn't both chunks be spinning like ricocheted bullets after an impact like that? Phobos' day is little longer than that of earth's.

      Still, very very interesting theory.

      1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

        M Gale

        Phobos and Deimos are kidney stones. They are also covered in craters. However long ago this happened, those little buggers have been up there a while. If my theory is right, then when the original impactor broke up while exiting the atmosphere, the two bits that became Phobos and Deimos were most likely at least semi-liquid. They cooled, and proceeded to spend umpteen years getting pummelled by space debris.

        What space debris though? Probably the same sort of crud that hits Mars itself, but also likely some leftover bits from their own creation. (A goodly chunk of which probably fell back to Mars.) Why couldn't either or both of these bodies have been slapped around some by space debris long enough to retard their spinning to about what we are seeing now? Seems to me anything big enough to have made that particular scar on mars would have been large enough to break up into a Phobos/Deimos pair a couple of times over. Where’d the rest of it go?

        I’ll bet that a good chunk of (probably very Iridium-rich) materiel is left buried under that impact scar. Another goodly chunk in various smaller and more directly vertical impact events all over the planet. Still, one look at the actual SHAPES of both of Mars’ companions (especially Phobos) tells me something happened to them (post-impact-event) that would have made for an EXCELLENT movie special effect.

        I’d bet the data to outright confirm or deny this theory already exists. The mapping of impact sites on Mars, Phobos and Deimos should tell us if there was an unusual number of them happening within the same, oh…million years or so? Chart the age of it all; see if there are any glaringly obvious correlations, and if so…you’ve probably got an impactor-based creation event. Albeit one significantly less cataclysmic for the parent body than the Terra/Luna system. (IIRC wasn’t the impactor in the Big Whack supposed to be >1/4 the extant proto-terra’s mass? Yowza!)

        I would love to have a NASA protoexogeology nerd hear my theory and either reject it outright or go “hmmmm.” Finding out you are (definitively) wrong is almost as much fun as finding out you are (definitively) right! Hurrah for science and <3 learning.

        1. Rattus Rattus

          This crater looks a lot younger than Mars' moons

          It's floor is fairly smooth with only a few new craters in it. Phobos and Deimos are a lot more cratered than that, I think they've been up there a lot longer than this crater has existed.

          1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

            @Rattus Rattus

            Possibly...or they orbited for a while through a cloud of debris left over from their own creation and got the **** pummelled out of them.

    2. Daniel 1

      Glancing blow impact craters

      Trevor, the Kaidun meteorite, from Russia, has been postulated as an actual chunk of Phobos, owing to the odd mix of materials it is made up of.

  15. Daren Nestor


    Is that some kind of term that means "not small at all"?

    The dimensions (from the ESA page) are as follows

    "this well-defined depression extends approximately 380 km by 140 km in a NNE–SSW direction. It has a rim that rises up to 1800 m above the surrounding plains, while the floor of the depression lies 400–600 m below the surroundings."

    Given it's 52,300 square kilometres in area (2.56 Wa in Vulture Central measurements), small is not the word I'd use.

  16. Emilio Desalvo

    WE are the men from Mars

    I still believe that H. Beam Piper was right...

  17. Rogerborg

    It's not the size, it's the energy

    My money's on Steve Ballmer, in the board room, with a chair (assisted by the latest iPod vs Zune sales figures).

    1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge


      I thoguht they stopped selling those. No? Hmm...

  18. Witty username

    Interstellar insurance claim

    "it came out of nowhere guv"

  19. Tony S

    Wrong shape...

    ...for a "glancing blow". It would get narrower all the way along the length resembling more of a comet's tail, not start smaller, get larger, then smaller.

    I was going to make a comment about it being a god sized phallic shape, but realised ... oh no! God's a woman!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Wrong shape... → #

      Which way was it coming in to land?

  20. Anonymous Coward

    And the pyramids?

    When are they going to point Mars Express at the pyramids and other weird stuff that NASA found years ago but has never bothered to investigate further?

    Some of that stuff (pics readily available on the web) seems so obviously un-natural that it beggars belief that nobody has bothered to look again. Or maybe they have and they just haven't told us.

    1. Geoff Mackenzie

      The pyramids, the face etc.

      Probably look less exciting when the light's not coming from just the right angle.

      Still, agreed, I'd like to see more pictures.

      1. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge

        they did this for the face

        but at high res it is just a rock

  21. Andus McCoatover

    God Grief!!

    Looks the perfect shape and colour of my underpants when I find them (usually at a mate's house) after Friday's Runny Ruby Murry, on Saturday morning..

    It's simply an alien 'trouser-track'. Maybe they don't use undies, them green monsters.

    Mother instigated into me the coherence between clean underpants and road traffic accidents. i.e. "Make sure you wear clean undies, in case you have a car accident" (You've all heard it)

    So, following mum's advice, I always shit my pants before I go shopping. Works. Never been hit by a car once in 54 years.

    1. Anonymous Coward


      You, sir, are a disgusting human being.

  22. Luther Blissett

    Friends are electroc

    Of the two contentious propositions in this article, I would quite frankly prefer to believe that this particular object was created by aliens, then that all the other craters were caused by meteoric impacts. Isn't it stretching belief a bit to have to think either that all the impactors arrived virtually perpendicular to the surface or that the only impactors to cause non-circular craters are those arriving at a grazing incidence? (If answering, don't wave computer models).

    1. Andus McCoatover

      Wonder if it might be an atmosphere thingy.

      On Earth, the atmosphere's fairly dense, and I think the discovered ancient craters seem to be pretty circular - even the big dinosaur-eliminating jobbies included ones (Mexico, Russia). Possibly the atmosphere 'levels' them out a bit as they come in. Mars atmosphere is a lot less than here, so maybe it doesn't straighten out the flight-path anywhere near.

      Having said that, the moon, with no atmosphere to speak of seems to have been hit 'from on the oche' quite a few times...

    2. Shakje

      A title is requried

      *waves computer models*

  23. serviceWithASmile
    Black Helicopters

    this is creepy...

    if you look at the high res jpg here: (1.5meg)

    you can see some lines (they look like small, straight valleys) that are intersected by this crater.

    fair enough, maybe mars had liquid water and rivers at some point.

    but if you look at the one just about reference 1, it actually goes through an impact crater - so the crater was there before this line / valley thing formed.

    Whereas all the others are intersected by the craters along their paths.

    how odd......

    wait a second, isn't the moon shrinking, causing similar ridges to form on its surface?

    this would be a great time to sell plots of land on mars - they will only get smaller!

    anyone else played mass effect?

    black helicopters because the universe is NOT expanding

  24. Fred 24

    Where is

    Samantha Carter when you need her? She'd suss it....

  25. Andus McCoatover


    Was it made of paper, perchance??? PARIS Test-flight that you're keeping 'under (paper) wraps'?

    I think the other Paris could make a bigger impact, however. Wasn't the famous video also green? Not that I ever saw it, just a mate in the pub told me...Honest, Guv...

  26. Anonymous John

    Elysium Planitias?

    Obviously connected to the Utopia Planitia Shipyards mentioned in Star Trek. An accident with anti-matter possibly.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      Or dilithium crystals...

  27. Michael Miller

    We'll need more guns.....

    Big fucking guns!

  28. Anonymous Coward

    I blame the Vorlons

    Alien? I don't think so.

  29. Dahak

    It's the Ork hordes

    Looks like the crash zone caused by the Ork spacehulk in Gorkamorka.

    Which means the areas probably alive with Homicidal Mockney Fungi.

  30. Anonyopterix

    Our alien friend has a visitor...

    IDW Publishing Transformers Movie Prequel...the Autobot Bumblebee lands on Mars, causing a crater very similar to that.

    This is a warning; do not allow yourself to be approached by yellow American cars at any point in the next few years. It can only end badly.

  31. Beachrider

    Now I remember why those crop circles are mostly in England...

    Hmmm... Extraterrestrial causes seem to be the primary hypotheses

    1. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge

      But then ...

      everything on Mars is extraterrestrial (except Vikings, Rovers and other stuff we sent, if you insist)

  32. Anonymous Coward

    Pond scum

    Are you all so busy wondering about the aliens that you missed the pond scum?

  33. RobE
    Thumb Up

    no aliens/meteorites here

    There are no drag lines indicating a direction of movement through the solid mars surface... therefore no alien skimming and no meteorites can have hit at any kind of angle. There must be some other explanation... my money is on a direct impact at 0 angle or some kind of strong wind/weather conditions over a light/dusty surface - a bit like a dessert

  34. jpvlsmv

    Battle Scar

    It is clearly a battle scar.

    The original Martians were at interstellar war with another advanced race. Their enemies used kinetic energy weapons (near-C rocks) to obliterate the Martian civilization. This was the single last shot that eliminated the Martian homeworld.

    Fortunately for us, the Martians had seeded the 3rd planet with life-bearing rocks before they were exterminated.


  35. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Nobody mentioned Golf yet?

    Perhaps there's a rather large divot lying/orbiting around somewhere.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Possibly not golf ...

      ... I dare suggest it was cricket.

      1. sT0rNG b4R3 duRiD



        1. M Gale

          I'm sorry.

          I can't see you. You're completely implausible.

  36. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Jean Luc

    I thought we warned you about doing any more time traveling. Back to the future with you.

  37. Tom Cooke

    Impact craters

    I think if you try this out with flour and ball bearings, you can prove that *all* impact craters are circular regardless of the angle of impact. (If it's not an impact, more of a 'skip', I guess this doesn't apply).

    1. Daniel 1

      45 dgree rule

      Impact craters are caused by supersonic shock waves, so the process does not resemble chucking ball bearings into flour.

      Most surface impacts - especially on planets with atmospheres - take place at more than 45 degrees, at which angle the shock waves radiate in largely circular pattern. Below this angle, however, the resulting crater becomes an elongated ovoid, as a greater degree of the explosive force is directed along the axis of impact - like the Matt Wilson crater in northern Australia; one of the best examples of a single, low-angle impact crater on Earth.

      The curious thing about this one, is its shallow, and very smooth, floor. One radical explanation, is that the true surface of the crater was buried in silt, as part of some sort of lake bed, which formed in it, following (or perhaps even because of) the impact itself.

  38. fortheloveofgod

    Start the reactor?

    Free your mind, Quaid.

  39. tonyoung

    Obviously ...

    ... it was Hancock, moonlighting!

  40. John 62

    power source

    Everyone knows it's elerium, not eternium!

    Now, everyone needs to get a copy of XCom/UFO Enemy Unknown, so that we'll all know how to defend ourselves...

  41. Avatar of They

    We studied mars in my geology degree.

    I reckon it is either a collapsed geode or a caldera. Would explain the hard rock sides and the perfectly flat centre, assuming the atmosphere was around and the dusts could then move in and fill it.

    Given mars has lava and tectonics in a similar way to us, it is more plausible than a space ship glancing off a planet. To create that it would have been a HUGE ship and we would all now be minions or food.

  42. This post has been deleted by its author

  43. Stuart Halliday
    Thumb Up

    Pretty obvious to me

    Pretty obvious it was a prototype Martian War Machine craft that went astray when launched....

  44. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge

    It's interplanetary snooker!

    At least it wasn't potted into a black hole (only scores 1 point, as it is a red ball)

  45. Yorkshirepudding

    Uhhhh Laaaa

    martian cylinder launch ramp?

  46. deadlockvictim

    Spaceman Spiff

    It never fails, you know, just after you've gotten the thing washed and waxed (or something along those lines).

  47. Richard Barclay

    Perhaps Some Earthlike Geological processes?

    For me there is a logical processes that could have caused it. I'm not an expert in dating crater formation so my hypothesis might be bollocks

    1. Shallow impact crater, meteorite 'skids' impact carving out crater. The generally flat look of the crater floor is caused by it filling with sand / dust over the many millions of years later, so basically we're looking at the solar systems biggest sandpit.

    2. Shallow impact crater, similar process but into water / wet mud type lake bed.

    3. Tectonic movement, a caldera / rift valley type process was at work that stalled. When the underlying magma cooled it contracted leaving a depression (which then filled with dust / sediment etc).

    Things to look for, if it where a meteorite impact we should see a 'fall out line' of debris some distance from the crater (the distance would denote the force of impact, by measuring the mass of the objects moved / distance / gravity we can work out how big it was). Imagine a bunker shot in golf where the sand kicks up and falls after etc.

  48. Andy Jones

    Government feck up

    The government haven't fecked up again have they? Tell me that is not a site being cleared for a stadium for the 2012 Olympics?

  49. fLaMePrOoF

    They have to be kidding?

    "However, the most likely explanation is that it was made in an oblique impact, when a small body struck the surface at a very shallow angle, perhaps less than five degrees from the horizontal"

    Who the F*** are they trying to kid? Just look at the skale of this thing! The crater walls are almost 2 kilometers high for goodness sake! SMALL BODY?!!!

    If this is an impact crater then it means Mars was at some point hit by a bloody MASSIVE object, something maybe 50-100 Kilometers wide...

    A similar impact on Earth would distroy a large proportion of the atmosphere and wipe out te vast majority of life eventually turning our planet into a lifeless rock like Mars... Hmm.. maybe they just don't want to cause a panic..?

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