From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.
Cool image time! As my regular readers well know, I am a caver, and am thus always interested when the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) takes a close-up of a pit that might also be an entrance to a cave.
The photo to the right, cropped and reduced to post here, was part of the most recent image release from MRO, but was boringly labeled “Arabia Terra” after the region where it is located, one of the largest transition zones on Mars between the northern lowland plains and the southern cratered highlands. When I took a close look, what I found was an intriguing string of pits whose arrangement is strikingly reminiscent of a river tributary system.
The white box indicates one section that I have zoomed into, as shown below.
Gosh, that sure looks like there was an underground drainage, flowing from the right to the left, with two tributaries coming to a confluence that on the wider image above continues to the north and west until it combines with another set of tributaries and then heads west. Whatever had flowed underground had eventually eroded a large enough passage for the ceiling to collapse in multiple places along its length.
Of course, we have no idea if these pits are skylights into a volcanic lava tube, or a former water passage. The low latitude, only 5 degrees north of the equator, argues against liquid water, but then, this is also the same latitude as the giant canyon Valles Marineris, which scientists think might have been formed by catastrophic floods.
The overview map on the right provides this context. The red cross indicates the location of this image. The blue cross indicates the area the rover Opportunity explored.
The implied direction of the underground drainage, to the west, also makes sense. The general downward grade for Arabia Terra is to the west and north.
Finally, the color strip in the top photo provides one more intriguing detail. The ground surrounding one string of pits is differently colored than the surrounding terrain, suggesting a different make-up. To my eye this looks like dust material that might have been blown from the pits, but that’s a pure guess.
Is there a cave system here? We do not know, though other research supports this hypothesis.
Every July, to celebrate the anniversary of the start of Behind the Black in 2010, I hold a month-long fund-raising campaign to make it possible for me to continue my work here for another year.
This year's fund-raising drive however is more significant in that it is also the 10th anniversary of this website's founding. It is hard to believe, but I have been doing this for a full decade, during which I have written more than 22,000 posts, of which more than 1,000 were essays and almost 2,600 were evening pauses.
This year's fund drive is also more important because of the growing intolerance of free speech and dissent in American culture. Increasingly people who don't like what they read are blatantly acting to blackball sites like mine. I have tried to insulate myself from this tyrannical effort by not depending on Google advertising or cross-posts Facebook or Twitter. Though this prevents them from having a hold on me, it also acts to limit my exposure.
Therefore, I hope you will please consider donating to Behind the Black, by giving either a one-time contribution or a regular subscription, as outlined in the tip jar below. Your support will allow me to continue covering science and culture as I have for the past twenty years, independent and free from any outside influence.
Regular readers can support Behind The Black with a contribution via paypal:
If Paypal doesn't work for you, you can support Behind The Black directly by sending your donation by check, payable to Robert Zimmerman, to
Behind The Black
c/o Robert Zimmerman
Cortaro, AZ 85652