The Tharsis Region of Mars is Peppered With These Strange Pit Craters. Now They’ve Been Found Elsewhere

An Atypical Pit Crater in ancient terrain near Elysium Mons, as seen by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UArizona.

Pit craters are found on solid bodies throughout our Solar System, including Earth, Venus, the Moon, and Mars. These craters – which are not formed by impacts — can be indications of underground lava tubes, which are created when the top of a stream of molten rock solidifies and the lava inside drains away, leaving a hollow tube of rock. If a portion of the roof of the tube is unsupported, parts of it may fall in, making a hole or a pit along the lava tube’s path.

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This Bizarre Terrain on Mars is Caused by Water Ice and Carbon Dioxide

Spring fans and polygons on Mars, as seen by the HiRISE camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UArizona.

From orbit, this landscape on Mars looks like a lacy honeycomb or a spider web. But the unusual polygon-shaped features aren’t created by Martian bees or spiders; they are actually formed from a ongoing process of seasonal change from created from water ice and carbon dioxide.

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This Crater on Mars is Just a Couple of Years Old

A recently formed impact crater on Mars. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UArizona

Changes are always taking place on Mars, from factors like seasonal variations and wind. But there’s one other aspect that changes the surface of Mar quite often: impacts.

Here’s a new impact crater that was seen by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Exactly when the crater formed is not known, but this image was taken on July 24, 2020 and in a previous image of this site taken in 2018, the crater is not there.

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This is a Dust Avalanche on Mars

HiRISE Spots Slope Streaks Fanning Out on Mars Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UArizona

For decades, scientists have observed dark landslides called slope streaks on Mars. First seen by the Viking orbiters in the 1970s, every orbiter mission since has observed them, but the mechanism behind the slope streaks has been hotly debated: could they be caused by water activity on the Red Planet, or are they the result of some sort of dry mechanics?

Turns out, the leading candidate is “dry.” But scientists with the Mars Odyssey mission have verified an additional culprit behind the slope streaks: carbon dioxide frost.

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These are Star Dunes on Mars, Formed When the Wind Comes From Many Different Directions

An amazing aspect of Mars that is captured in many HiRISE images is geologic diversity within a small area. This image, of a crater in the Tyrrhena Terra region, was targeted to look at the geologic aspects of possible clays detected with the CRISM instrument. Image Credit: NASA/JPL/UArizona

Missions to Mars are expensive, even orbiters. They’re there to do science, not take pretty pictures. But sometimes Mars’ beauty is captured inadvertently, usually with some science mixed in.

That’s the case with this picture of star dunes captured by the HiRISE camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

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Mars Orbiter Captures Images of China’s Rover From Space

The Chinese Zhurong rover landed on Mars in May 2021.This HiRISE image, acquired on 11 March 2022, shows the rover's new location. Credit: NASA/JPL/UofA

China’s Tianwen-1 lander and Zhurong rover touched down on the Martian plain Utopia Planitia on May 14, 2021 after spending about three months orbiting the Red Planet. While the Chinese Space Agency has shared images of the rover and lander (including a cute family portrait taken by a wireless remote camera), NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has been following the rover’s travels from above.

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Strange Terraces on Mars are a Clear Signal of Sedimentary Rock

Sedimentary rock in Danielson Crater on Mars. Credit: NASA/JPL/UArizona

If we’ve learned anything about Mars the past 2-3 decades from the various rovers, landers and orbiters we’ve sent to the Red Planet, it’s that the planet’s geologic history is much more complicated and diverse than what we thought.

This picture from the HiRISE (High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment) camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter shows fractured sedimentary rock inside a crater called Danielson. Sedimentary rock is a sure sign that this planet was active in the past. The fracturing, layering and terrace-like structures suggests a long-term watery history in this region.

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Ice Peeks out of a Cliffside on Mars

This area, on the western edge of Milankovic Crater on Mars, has a thick deposit of sediment that covers a layer rich in ice. The ice is not obvious unless you look in color. In the red-green-blue images that are close to what the human eye would see, the ice looks bright white, while the surroundings are a rusty red. The ice stands out even more clearly in the infrared-red-blue images where it has a striking bluish-purple tone while the surroundings have a yellowish-grey color. The ice-rich material is most visible when the cliff is oriented east-west and is shielded from the sun as it arcs through the sky to the south. Image Credit: NASA/JPL/UArizona

The HiRISE (High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment) camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has captured another beauty. This time the image shows water ice peeking out from a cliffside on Mars. A layer of sediment obscures most of the ice, but fingers of it are visible.

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