No, that’s not a crater you’re looking at, that is actually a giant hole on Mars. The red planet has some unique features that set it apart from the rest of the solar system, such as the tallest Volcano (Olympus Mons) and the largest canyon (Valles Marineris), but now it’s surprising scientists with another feature, maybe not as unique as the first two but the first found so far on its surface. Situated on the slopes of the dormant Pavonis Mons volcano on Mars’ equator, NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter snapped a shot of what appears to be a large hole in the surface of the planet.
First spotted by the context (CTX) camera, a black and white camera used for wide angle views of the planet’s surface, the research team saw what appeared to be an unusual black smudge on the side of Pavonis Mons. When the team turned the MRO’s HiRISE camera (the largest deep space telescope ever constructed that can detect objects as small as a meter across) to the spot, they found that the black smudge was actually a skylight into an underground cavern measuring about 35 meters across. The cavern itself is believed to be an old lava tube created while the volcano was still active. According to the HiRISE team’s website, they’ve used the angle of the shadow to calculate that the hole is about 20 meters deep.
Researchers still don’t know the reason behind the larger crater-like depression surrounding the hole so they plan on investigating further. Sometime later this year the MRO will swoop over and take another image of the hole. They’ll use this second stereo image to create a 3D picture and hopefully unlock the secrets of this newly discovered feature.
This just makes me feel sorry for the Mars Curiosity team. Not only do they have to worry about their new rover landing in one piece, now they have to be on the look out for Sarlaccs as well.