NASA’s reconnaissance mission on Mars has proven to be invaluable in helping scientists understand the many intricacies of the Red Planet. The space agency’s multipurpose aircraft, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), has been monitoring the planet’s surface for 11 years. A decade is already a long time, but it turns out that one of Earth’s closest neighbors is still capable of surprising scientists, as they have recently discovered a massive deep hole on the surface of Mars.
The huge hole on Mars was found to be hundreds of feet in diameter and surrounded by frozen carbon dioxide. Located on the planet’s South Pole, the gigantic depression provides a stark contrast amid Mars’ “Swiss Cheese terrain.”
NASA released a statement explaining what could have caused the mysterious huge hole on Mars.
“This pattern is created when there is relatively high, smooth material that is broken up into these circular-shaped depressions forming the ‘Swiss cheese’ terrain,” NASA explained.
“We see many shallow pits in the bright residual cap of carbon dioxide ice (also called ‘Swiss cheese terrain’),” wrote Alfred McEwen from the University of Arizona’s Lunar & Planetary Laboratory, as reported by Daily Mail.
“There is also a deeper, circular formation that penetrates through the ice and dust,” he added.
NASA also said that the massive hole on Mars was caused by sublimation, a process in which a material gets transformed from a solid to a gas phase.
“Repeated images are taken of areas like this so the changes in depression size and where they form can be monitored through the seasons,” NASA added.
According to NASA, there are various explanations on why there are many holes on Mars, ranging from meteorite impacts and collapsing lava tubes to ancient floods and funnel-forming volcanic activity.
That said, the massive, perfectly circular hole located on the South Pole of Mars looks drastically different from many other craters and shallow holes found on the planet’s surface.
As reported by Science Alert, the photo of the massive hole on Mars was taken during South Pole’s summer season. As per usual during summer time, the Sun is low enough in the sky that shadows are formed in a way that accentuates the huge depression’s subtle features.
The image of the massive hole on the surface of Mars was taken using the MRO’s High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment, or HiRISE camera, which is powerful enough to provide researchers clear images of Martian objects “larger than one metre (about three feet) in size from about 200 to 400 kilometres (about 125 to 250 miles) above.”
This isn’t the first time scientists have discovered a strange hole on Mars. Earlier this year, researchers spotted a scaly feature on the South Pole’s layered deposits.
While scientists determined that the bizarre hole is an impact crater, the artificial-looking features of the surface make even researchers wonder as to its true origin.
Launched in August 2005, the MRO has been sending researchers detailed images of the Red Planet’s surface. For more than a decade, scientists have learned many interesting facts about Mars. One such discovery involves raging dust devils, which were found to be common across the Red Planet’s flat, dry Amazonis Planitia.
Back in November 2016, the MRO sent back images of a crash site involving Europe’s doomed Mars probe. As reported by Science Alert, NASA’s MRO discovered the dead rover via a satellite image. After extensive investigation using MRO’s measurement and surveillance tools, researchers discovered that the spacecraft’s solar panels had failed to deploy, which caused its failure to send a signal back home.
“After 11 and a half years in flight, the spacecraft is healthy and remains fully functional,” said MRO Project Manager Dan Johnston.
“It’s a marvelous vehicle that we expect will service the Mars Exploration Program and Mars science for many more years to come.”
[Featured Image by Michael Rosskothen/Shutterstock]