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This mysterious "hole" on Mars could become a future home for astronauts. Photo

Anna BoklajukNews
Pit crater can open into a larger cave and provide a protected environment for astronauts. Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UArizona

The pit crater could open into a larger cave and provide a protected environment for both astronauts and hypothetical Martian life. A mysterious pit on the slope of an ancient volcano on Mars has recently sparked excitement about what might lie beneath the Red Planet's surface.

The pit was found on the lava flow of the extinct Arsia Mons volcano and looks like a vertical shaft. This raises the question: is it just a narrow pit, or does it lead to a much larger and more magnificent cave? Or perhaps it is a really deep lava tube that was formed underground long ago when the volcano was still active, Space writes.

There are several reasons why pits and caves on Mars are of interest. First of all, they could provide shelter for astronauts in the future as Mars has a thin atmosphere and no global magnetic field and cannot protect radiation from space the way the Earth does. Consequently, the radiation exposure on the surface of Mars is on average 40-50 times higher than on Earth. Another attractive aspect of these pits is that they may be of astrobiological interest: that is, there is a possibility that they may have been a haven for Martian life in the past or even today, if microbial life does exist there.

The presence of these so-called vents on the flanks of volcanoes is a big clue that they are probably related to volcanic activity on Mars. Lava channels can flow out of a volcano underground: when the volcano goes extinct, the channel empties. This leaves behind a long underground pipe. We see such pipes not only on Mars but also on the Moon and on Earth.

This mysterious ''hole'' on Mars could become a future home for astronauts. Photo

However, how deep these pits go remains a mystery, and it is not known whether the pits open into a large cave or are contained in a small cylindrical depression. However, it has been shown that pits on the Moon have a floor strewn with boulders, which seem likely to lead to a larger underground volume. Pits can also form due to tectonic stresses that fracture the surface of the world, and there is a small chance that this would lead to a larger cave. And finally, another even less likely explanation is that these pits are opening up in a place where underground rivers once flowed billions of years ago.

This mysterious ''hole'' on Mars could become a future home for astronauts. Photo

We can observe a similar phenomenon on Earth in the form of a geological feature called a karst, which forms when the limestone bedrock dissolves and weakens, forming pits and sinkholes that open up into the groundwater region. That is, if life once existed on the Red Planet, these organisms could have been hiding in karsts: the water flowing along the edge of an active volcano would have been warm, providing an ideal protected environment for life to thrive and be safe.

This mysterious ''hole'' on Mars could become a future home for astronauts. Photo

Nevertheless, this is still just a guess. Scientists will only get concrete answers after future missions actually explore some of these pits. If these pits do turn into caves, they may become a better landing site for future crewed missions to Mars, which will require astronauts to build a protected base camp away from the relentless radiation.

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