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NASA stares into dark, freaky pit on Mars

NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter stared into the darkness of this pit on Mars.


NASA/JPL/UArizona

I used to have reoccurring nightmares about falling into a pit. A new image from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft (aka the MRO) pushes all my childhood scary-dream buttons.

The image, acquired Jan. 24 by the MRO’s HiRise camera, shows a startling black pit against a lighter expanse of surface. These leads to a big question: What’s hiding down there in the dark depths?

The HiRise team at the University of Arizona performed a brightness enhancement to see into the abyss.

“The floor of the pit appears to be smooth sand and slopes down to the southeast,” HiRise co-investigator Ross Beyer wrote in a Friday statement. “The hope was to determine if this was an isolated pit, or if it was a skylight into a tunnel, much like skylights in the lava tubes of Hawai’i.”

This side-by-side view shows the pit on the left and the brightness-enhanced version on the right.


NASA/JPL/UArizona

Scientists suspect Mars is home to volcanic caves, which could be fascinating destinations for future rovers or human explorers. Pits like the one the MRO is investigating could be gateways to these underground worlds.

This particular chasm isn’t giving up any secrets just yet. “We can’t obviously see any tunnels in the visible walls, but they could be in the other walls that aren’t visible,” Beyer wrote.

What lies beneath? For now that’ll have to remain a Mars mystery.

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