This striking photograph from the International Space Station features two examples of circular landscape features—labeled as craters—that were produced by very different geological processes.
At image right, the broad grey-green shield volcano of Emi Koussi is marked by three overlapping calderas that were formed by eruptions. The calderas form a large, oblong depression at the 3,415–meter (11,200 foot) high summit of the volcano. A smaller crater sits within the larger caldera depression. While volcanic activity has never been observed—nor mentioned in historical records—an active thermal area can be found on the southern flank.
The circular Aorounga Impact Crater lies approximately 110 kilometers (68 miles) to the southeast of Emi Koussi and has its origins in forces from above rather than below. (Note that the image is rotated so that north is at the bottom.) The Aorounga structure is thought to record a meteor impact from approximately 345 to 370 million years ago. The crater in the image may be but one of three impact craters formed by the same event; the other two are buried by sand deposits. The linear features (image lower left) that arc around Emi Koussi and overprint Aorounga and the surrounding bedrock are known as yardangs—rock ridges formed by wind erosion.
Astronaut photograph ISS030-E-5456 was acquired on November 26, 2011, with a Nikon D2Xs digital camera using a 48 mm lens, and is provided by the ISS Crew Earth Observations experiment and Image Science & Analysis Laboratory, Johnson Space Center. The image was taken by the Expedition 30 crew. The image has been cropped and enhanced to improve contrast. Lens artifacts have been removed. The International Space Station Program supports the laboratory as part of the ISS National Lab to help astronauts take pictures of Earth that will be of the greatest value to scientists and the public, and to make those images freely available on the Internet. Additional images taken by astronauts and cosmonauts can be viewed at the NASA/JSC Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth. Caption by William L. Stefanov, Jacobs Technology/ESCG at NASA-JSC.
Two neighboring craters in Africa had very different origins.
In this astronaut photograph, a pair of jewel-toned lakes sit in the Deriba Caldera on top of Mount Marra Volcano in western Sudan. Shadows throw the steep southern wall of the outer crater into sharp relief.
Germany’s Ries Crater (or Nördlinger Ries) is not easily discerned in space-based images. The crater’s existence was probably just as subtle to the medieval Europeans who established a settlement inside it and unknowingly matched their 1-kilometer- (0.6-mile-) wide city to the likely diameter of the meteorite that formed the crater.