Mysterious pit on Mars could be key to colonising Red Planet, astronomers say

Mysterious pit on Mars could be key to colonising Red Planet, astronomers say

A newly discovered hole on Mars likely connected to underground caves could be key to colonising the Red Planet, astronomers say.

An image of the pit, which is a few metres across, was captured by Nasa’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

“Pits may reflect geologically recent tectonic or volcanic activity. Any associated caves could be targets for future robotic exploration,” researchers at the University of Arizona who analysed the images said in a blog post.

Mars has vast networks of lava tubes similar to those found on Earth which could host life forms, sheltering them from dust storms and the harsh planetary conditions caused by the lack of an effective magnetic shield and a thick atmosphere like Earth’s.

Scientists suggest such cave networks, formed from the collapse of ancient lava tubes, could be potential shelters for future astronauts.

The newly discovered pit is near a dormant volcano in the Arsia Mons region, a volcanic plain thousands of kilometres across.

This region is elevated relative to the rest of Mars by about 10km on average.

Pits in this region, scientists suspect, could open into subterranean lava tubes, which are remnants of the Red Planet’s volcanic history.

As the outer surface of flowing lava cooled and solidified and the interior molten lava flowed out, they left a tube structure behind.

Researchers are using a number of techniques to find tubes that may be interconnected beneath the Martian surface.

For instance, they recently trained a machine learning algorithm to assess a catalogue of cave images from the Tharsis and Elysium regions on the planet which is home to a large number of volcanoes.

However, another picture taken recently shows an illuminated sidewall of the mysterious Arisa Mons hole, meaning it could be a cylindrical pit or a shaft and not an entrance to a cave.

Similar pits have been found on Earth, such as near Hawaiian volcanoes, and those do not connect to caves or lava tubes.

Researchers hope future robotic missions to Mars can offer more insights into the pits.