Contact: Dr. Nadine G. Barlow
Department of Physics
University of Central Florida
(407) 823-0251
ngb@physics.ucf.edu

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE   August 12, 1996

POSSIBLE SOURCE CRATERS FOR MARTIAN METEORITE FOUND
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Two possible source craters for the martian meteorite ALH84001 have been
identified through an extensive search of impact craters on Mars. The
1.9-kg (4.2 lb) meteorite, recently identified as showing possible
evidence of past martian life, was formed about 4.5 billion years ago and
was blasted off of Mars during a meteorite impact about 16 million years
ago. Dr. Nadine Barlow, a planetary scientist at the University of Central
Florida, identified the two likely source craters through a search of a
crater catalog she compiled while doing her graduate work at the
University of Arizona in the mid-1980's. 

A number of characteristics of the meteorite helped Dr. Barlow narrow the
search for possible source craters. The 4.5 billion year old age of the
meteorite indicated it must have come from the most ancient terrain on
Mars, while the 16 million year old ejection age indicates that the crater
from which the meteorite was ejected should still show very young
features. Evidence of pre-ejection shock events indicates that one or more
large, old craters should be found near the meteorite ejection site, and
the presence of carbonates in the meteorite suggests that evidence of
water should be present. Previous work by other researchers indicate that
martian meteorites can only be ejected either by a very large impact
(100-km diameter or larger) if the impact is near-vertical, or by smaller
impacts if they strike at an angle close to the horizon. The low angle
impacts will create a distinctive elliptical-shaped crater. 

Dr. Barlow's crater catalog, which contains information on 42,283 martian
impact craters, was used to search for fresh, elliptical impact craters
larger than 10-km-diameter and for fresh, circular craters larger than
100-km-diameter on ancient terrain. The search produced 23 possible
craters. Dr,. Barlow then used images of the martian surface taken by the
Viking Orbiter spacecraft in the mid-1970's to eliminate those craters
which showed evidence of being older than 16-million years. "16 million
years may sound like a long time to humans, but for geologic processes it
is a very short time period, particularly for a planet like Mars which has
apparently experienced little geologic activity over the past billion
years" said Dr. Barlow. 

The two craters which survived the analysis are both of the smaller,
elliptical crater type. Both are located in the heavily cratered southern
highlands of Mars. The first crater, located in the Sinus Sabaeus region
of Mars south of the Schiaparelli impact basin, is 23 x 14.5 km in
diameter, displays a pristine ejecta blanket and sharp crater rim, and is
superposed on the rim of a much older highly degraded 50-km-diameter
crater. Several small channels which formed early in the planet's history
are located nearby, including one called Evros Vallis. The second possible
source crater for ALH84001 is located east of the Hesperia Planitia
region, is 11 x 9 km in diameter, and also displays a pristine ejecta
blanket and sharp crater rim. It is located less than 10 km from an older
25-km diameter crater in an area which also shows some possible evidence
of ancient fluvial activity. 

The identification of possible source craters for ALH84001 will allow NASA
to focus its efforts on these areas with future lander missions to Mars. 

Dr. Barlow's findings are being prepared for submission to the Journal of
Geophysical Research. She also plans to report on these results at the
October meeting of the Division for Planetary Sciences of the American
Astronomical Society meeting to be held in Tucson, Arizona.