KEY POINTS

  • NASA's MRO spotted a cave-like structure on the Martian surface
  • The MRO was able to see into the cave using the HiRISE camera
  • Underground lava tubes could be hiding alien life on Mars

While orbiting Mars hundreds of miles from its surface, NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) was able to look inside a deep and dark pit on the Red Planet. The robotic spacecraft was able to do so using its powerful camera.

The MRO peered into the pit using its High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera. It made its observations as it orbited Mars from an altitude of 160 miles from its surface.

The dark pit that the MRO spotted was actually a collapsed lava tube, which created a cave-like feature. Although the photos taken by the MRO only feature a dark hole on the ground, researchers from the University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, who operate the HiRISE camera, noted that the spacecraft was able to identify certain features of the pit.

Through the camera’s sensitive imaging capabilities, the researchers were able to look inside the cave-like structure. They were also able to enhance the image captured by the HiRISE camera to show the features of the cave. The differences between the normal photo and the enhanced one were highlighted in a cut-out image released by the team.

According to the researchers, the MRO and its camera were able to capture stunning photos of the pit by orienting HiRISE to get a better view. By doing so, it was able to identify certain features of the cave such as its walls and floor.

“Fortunately, HiRISE is sensitive enough to actually see things in this otherwise dark pit,” the researchers stated. “Since HiRISE turned by almost 30 degrees to capture this image, we can see the rough eastern wall of the pit. The floor of the pit appears to be smooth sand and slopes down to the southeast.”

Studying similar cave-like structures on Mars could lead to impressive discoveries. In a previous report, scientists from NASA supported the idea that the underground lava tubes on the Red Planet could have the right environmental conditions to support alien life.

The scientists believe that due to their location, the lava tubes provide shelter from Mars’ harsh surface conditions. These geological features are also not exposed to the cosmic radiation battering the surface. Since they have ideal conditions, scientists think these lava tubes could be hiding traces of alien life on Mars.

Mars Pit Cave-like feature on Mars spotted by NASA's MRO. Photo: NASA/JPL/UArizona