This Is Not a Bullet Hole. This Is Mars

Orbiter spots deep pit at Red Planet's south pole
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 8, 2017 12:35 PM CDT

(Newser) – Mars is the solar system's equivalent of a pock-marked teenager, with a surface dotted by countless craters and pits left by meteors, floods, and volcanoes. But there's one newly discovered pit that scientists just can't make sense of, reports Science Alert. It's a massive hole—believed to be hundreds of yards across, so wider than most on Mars—on the planet's South Pole. It was recently spotted by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which has already managed 50,000 trips around the Red Planet, in an area whose appearance is described as "Swiss cheese terrain." Here, in a sea of frozen carbon dioxide, the summer sun converts portions of what is frozen into a gaseous state, reports Newsweek, noting the pit appears to have ice at the bottom.

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It could be an impact crater or "a collapse pit," says NASA. According to Inverse, it might also be a great place to look for evidence of life on Mars. But whether we'll ever be able to explore it is up in the air, er, space. Though NASA is hoping to send humans to Mars in the next decade or two, its Mars Exploration Program is on "a troubling path of decline," per a Planetary Society report. With no planned missions after the Mars 2020 rover, NASA has no way to get Martian samples back to Earth or indeed to allow for communication with Earth if its two decade-old orbiters fail, the society says. Because funding must be established years in advance, "the ideal timeframe for an orbiter to start is yesterday," the head of space policy for the Society tells the Verge. (One Martian hole has been linked to a massive tsunami.)

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