'Cave entrances' spotted on Mars


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Scientists studying pictures from Nasa's Odyssey spacecraft have spotted what they think may be seven caves on the surface of Mars.

The candidate caves are on the flanks of the Arsia Mons volcano and are of sufficient depth their floors mostly cannot be seen through the opening.

Details were presented here at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in Houston, Texas.

Temperature data from Mars Odyssey's Themis instrument support the idea.

The authors say that the possible discovery of caves on the Red Planet is significant.

The caves may be the only natural structures capable of protecting primitive life forms from micrometeoroids, UV radiation, solar flares and high energy particles that bombard the planet's surface.

The spacecraft spotted what seemed to be vertical "skylight" entrances to caves below the surface.

There is a sheer drop of between about 80m and 130m or more to the cave floors below.

During the day, one of the features - nicknamed "Annie" - is warmer than surrounding pits and cooler than sunlit areas.

Night time temperatures are warmer than nearly all surrounding areas.

Co-author Glen Cushing, from the US Geological Survey in Flagstaff, Arizona, said this was exactly what would be expected if the feature were a cave.

"Nothing like these features has been seen elsewhere on Mars," he told BBC News.

The researchers describe the candidate caves as "seven sisters" and have given them all names: Dena, Chloe, Wendy, Annie, Abbey, Nicki and Jeanne.

The cave entrances are between 100m and 252m wide (330-828ft).

Because in most cases the cave floors cannot be seen, only minimum depths are known: the researchers calculated they must extend between 73m and 96m (240-315ft) below the surface.

However, in one image taken of Dena by the Mars Odyssey Camera, a floor can be seen.

Using the data, the authors calculated that this cave must extend 130m (426ft) below the surface.

Mars Odyssey was launched in April 2001 to hunt for past or present water on the Red Planet.

Its Themis (Thermal Emission Imaging System) instrument uses the visible and infrared part of the electromagnetic spectrum to measure the temperature properties of the Martian surface.

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Jokes aside I think it's interesting and they should further investigate these caves. After I read the article the first time I was amazed by a fact that came to my mind, this is one of the first if not the first time I have read about caves on Mars. Wouldn't one assume that the planet is marked with caves all over?

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  • 6 months later...

Update:

Is there life in the caves on Mars ?

Caves have been found on Mars ? and they could be home to alien life, scientists said on Sept. 23rd.

The entrances to seven possible caverns on the slopes of a 16km-high (10mile) Martian volcano called Arsia Mons were spotted by Nasa satellites.

The find will fuel suggestions that life may exist in 'underground habitats' on the Red Planet. The caves could one day become shelters for astronauts, scientists at the US space agency said.

The holes named Dena, Chloe, Wendy, Annie, Abbey, Nicki and Jeanne were described as 'very dark, nearly circular features' ranging from about 100m (328ft) to 250m (820ft) across.

They may be at least 100m (300ft) deep and the only natural structures capable of protecting life from meteor strikes, radiation and solar flares that bombard the planet's surface.

Astronomer Tim Titus of the US Geological Survey said: 'Somewhere on Mars, caves might provide a protected niche for past or current life.

'Whether these are just deep vertical shafts or openings into big caverns, they are entries to under the surface of Mars.'

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caves = some sort of running water, correct?

The report says the caves are on the side of a volcano, so I would think that they were formed by lava...

If I still remember my geography correctly, don't volcanoes have "exhaust" tunnels?

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But still, how does something live without light, and a good supply of oxygen ?

A couple of assumptions are made there Hum.

1st is that light is needed for life. We know from various species that live by deep sulfuric vents in the ocean floor that this is not the case. Light cannot penetrate that far down, yet they live quite nicely.

2nd is that they use the same mechinism for breathing as we do. There is a theory that those species move into the sulfuric vents to obtian the chemicals needed for them to live. There is other speculation that they use O2 just like a lot of the species on the planet.

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^ Well, many sea creatures depend on plants floating in the oceans, and the plants DO need sunlight.

And I guess anything is possible, but I don't know any life that does not use some oxygen, on Earth.

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I was reading in a National Geographic the other day about spiders that live in totally pitch black caves. They have no eyes and can detect vibrations easier. Why couldn't something like this not exist in those caves? I guess the whole "no oxygen" thing comes into play =\ still, it's interesting.

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  • 2 months later...

It's those damn Jawas.

But still, how does something live without light, and a good supply of oxygen ?

That's simply not thinking outside the box, in fact a very small box.

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