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NASA Space Science

Large Caves Found on the Surface of Mars 191

Posted by Zonk
from the oh-crap-i'd-better-move-my-stuff dept.
David DelMonte writes "Space.com is reporting on the discovery of seven dark spots near the Equator on Mars. The thinking is that these are cave openings. The openings are the size of football fields, and one of them is thought to extend approximately 400 feet below the surface.'The researchers hope the discovery will lead to more focused spelunking on Mars. "Caves on Mars could become habitats for future explorers or could be the only structures that preserve evidence of past or present microbial life ," said Glenn Cushing of Northern Arizona University, who first spotted the black areas in the photographs.'"
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Large Caves Found on the Surface of Mars

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  • Wait, what? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by susano_otter (123650) on Tuesday April 03, 2007 @11:41AM (#18589635) Homepage
    Why does the article keep switching back and forth between "we think they might be caves" and "we're certain they really are caves"? Let me know when they've made up their minds about whether or not they've made up their minds, and I'll start caring about these (possible) caves.
  • Surprise? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Enderandrew (866215) <enderandrew@gm[ ].com ['ail' in gap]> on Tuesday April 03, 2007 @11:41AM (#18589639) Homepage Journal
    We know Venus has mountains and valleys. We know Mars has mountains and valleys.

    Should be at all surprised to find caves on Mars?

    I thought we already believed that all solid planets had plate activity like Earth, that formed the mountains and valleys. Aren't caves a natural extension of that thought process?

    I thought this was a given.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      I don't see the word "surprising" anywhere in the article. You do realize there's a difference between predicting something and confirming it, right?
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Cedric Tsui (890887)
      Mars does not have plate activity like earth.

      This is why Mars has larger mountains and deeper valleys than earth, because the one plate does not move, and that mountain on the top of the hotspot never moved away from the source of its growth.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Normal Dan (1053064)
      We have hypothesised about caves on other planets but have not seen any until this point. The fantastic thing is not that there are caves on Mars, but the fact that we may have found them. This new find could drastically change our future missions to Mars.
    • Re:Surprise? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by thelexx (237096) on Tuesday April 03, 2007 @11:57AM (#18589925)
      Speculation, no matter how informed and certain, is never as good as proof.

    • Re:Surprise? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Red Flayer (890720) on Tuesday April 03, 2007 @12:22PM (#18590325) Journal

      I thought we already believed that all solid planets had plate activity like Earth, that formed the mountains and valleys. Aren't caves a natural extension of that thought process?
      Not necessarily. Most caves on earth are not caused by pyroclastic flow, but rather by (acidic) flowing water dissolving calcite in limestone.
    • Actually, geology of different worlds can be quite different. As far as I know, there are not many (if any) bodies outside of earth that has plate tectonics in the solar system (although I think I remember hearing that there might be evidence that similar processes might be taking place on Titan).
    • Not quite (Score:3, Informative)

      by novus ordo (843883)
      Actually Mars and Venus don't have any major plate activity [lukew.com] and haven't for Millions of years(see wikipedia). It's also why they have weak magnetic fields as the internal dynamo is what sustains a magnetic field. Internal dynamo drives plate tectonics which are sustained [about.com] by the cooling action of surface and core exchanges.
      Mars is dead geologically, meaning that it has no volcanic activity and we think that the core has (probably) hardened [anl.gov].
      Incidentally, Venus is a much better candidate for colonization, but
      • by monkeydo (173558)
        Who says there is no global warming? Nobody? But if you're right about Venus then what it really says is that we can ignore all the whahoos like Al Gore and go back about our business. Unless you're going to claim that humans are responsible for the 450*C temperatures on other planets.
        • I hate that tired old argument. Does it matter if it is humans that are causing it? After it's run its course there won't be any left to debate what the hell caused it.
          • by monkeydo (173558)
            Are you for real? If humans spewing CO2 isn't the cause of global warming then how is stopping the spew the soulution?
          • by MBGMorden (803437)
            The man has a point. Species have gone extinct on their own in Earth's past - but we have most decidely forced some into extinction ourselves too.

            Apply this to greenhouse effects - they can occur naturally, but there is a large scientific basis to say that we can cause them too. Venus is a prime example of how badly a greenhouse effect can screw up a planet. In the technical sense, Venus is actually at the edge (but still WITHIN) the solar system's habitable zone (Mars is also within it but at the other
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by mykdavies (1369)
      "I thought we already believed that all solid planets had plate activity like Earth"

      Quite the opposite actually: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plate_tectonics#Plate _tectonics_on_other_planets [wikipedia.org] ...it has been proposed that the mechanisms of plate tectonics may *once*[4BY ago] have been active on [Mars]...

      Venus shows no evidence of active plate tectonics. There is debatable evidence of active tectonics in the planet's distant past.

      Some of the satellites of Jupiter have features that may be related to plate-tec
    • I think it might have something to do with giant earthworms.
    • Caves could be a good indication that there was errosion caused by liquid, and moreover, it could have protected evidences linked to that erosion from the martian winds, so it is not only cool, it's really worth sending a probe into one of them.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 03, 2007 @11:43AM (#18589687)
    We come in peace!

    Ack Ack Ack! Ack Ack ACKACK!

    Do not run! We are your friends!
  • The same kind of thing as the "face". I think they're jumping way ahead by calling these cave entrances.
  • by ciaohound (118419) on Tuesday April 03, 2007 @11:44AM (#18589705)
    "Start the generator, Quaid."
  • by brennanw (5761) * on Tuesday April 03, 2007 @11:47AM (#18589753) Homepage Journal
    ... they're where the Martians store all their canal-boats till next thaw.
  • by goofyheadedpunk (807517) <goofyheadedpunk.gmail@com> on Tuesday April 03, 2007 @11:48AM (#18589763)
    > Caves on Mars could become habitats for future explorers...

    Does anyone else find it slightly amusing that as humans move out into space we may yet again end up living in caves?
    • "or could be the only structures that preserve evidence of past or present microbial life

      And the best way to find out if they are there and like to eat people is to have some move in.
    • by exp(pi*sqrt(163)) (613870) on Tuesday April 03, 2007 @12:25PM (#18590373) Journal
      > Does anyone else find it slightly amusing that as humans move out into space we may yet again end up living in caves?

      It's no more interesting than the fact that people on Mars will probably wear shoes, just like upper paleolithic humans. In fact, less interesting because caves have never played a significant role in human habitation. Humans have lived all over the world, but how many of those places do you think have caves?

  • by wizardforce (1005805) on Tuesday April 03, 2007 @11:50AM (#18589811) Journal
    Mars has no global magnetic field to deflect solar radiation which means that when humans go there they will be exposed to alot of deadly radiation- if we want to stay on mars we need a place that is safe- caves are one such place. they shield agaisnt radiation and make it easier to build habitats. this discovery could allow humans to colonize mars.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by HarvardAce (771954)
      caves a good spot to land

      We have enough problem landing on flat ground on Mars...now you want to land in a cave? Good luck with that!

    • by barakn (641218)

      this discovery could allow humans to colonize mars
      Yes, because it would be impossible to create an artificial cave.
      • by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Tuesday April 03, 2007 @01:05PM (#18591005) Homepage Journal
        We live in a mobile home. It's like a cave, with wheels. You can go places. Except we never went anywhere.
        • by turgid (580780)

          So, which one of you is CAPTAIN CAVEMAN! and where are the Teen Angels?

        • by NaDrew (561847)

          We live in a mobile home. It's like a cave, with wheels. You can go places. Except we never went anywhere.
          +1 The Last Starfighter reference!
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by dan828 (753380)
        Well it's not like we're going to ship a backhoe to mars any time soon, so finding some pre-existing holes in the ground to use just might make establishment of a base just a tad bit more convenient.
        • Sure, I'll give you that. More convenient.. for the giant creature with a mouth that looks like a cave.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by confused one (671304)
          If we do try to establish a permanent presence, like a "base" on Mars, we will need to do exactly this kind of thing: "ship a backhoe to Mars." Not a backhoe in the traditional sense; but, this kind of equipment will be required to set up the infrastructure and build the first permanent habitations. Not to mention the need for heavy equipment for acquiring raw materials, to begin development of locally available resources. In the first years, you will be far, far from self sustaining and just about ever
  • They would also offer a modest amount of protection to future human explorers. The thin atmosphere of Mars offers no protection against solar radiation, so lots of solid rock would be our best bet (though it will be pretty cold in there).
    • Not to mention a nice place to hide from the Martians...
      • by psykocrime (61037)
        Not to mention a nice place to hide from the Martians...

        That's assuming the Martians are currently occupying those very same caves...
        • by psykocrime (61037)
          That's assuming the Martians are currently occupying those very same caves...

          Errr, damn typo. That should be> ...aren't currently occupying...
  • Black Areas (Score:5, Funny)

    by AeroIllini (726211) <aeroillini AT gmail DOT com> on Tuesday April 03, 2007 @11:51AM (#18589827)

    ...said Glenn Cushing of Northern Arizona University, who first spotted the black areas in the photographs.
    "Uh oh, looks like someone smudged the photo."

    *rubs finger on photo*

    "Hmm. Guess they're caves, then."
  • People have known about, and even explored, these caverns of Mars [webshots.com] for over two decades.
    • Scary...I remember that game, pretty fondly actually. I had it for my Atari 400 as a kid. I remember putting quite a lot of time into it, though I don't think you could ever "win". It just kept getting harder.
  • by Profane MuthaFucka (574406) * <busheatskok@gmail.com> on Tuesday April 03, 2007 @12:00PM (#18589979) Homepage Journal
    Part of the symbolism of the space baby at the end of the movie is that people are masters of the Earth, but we're infants in space. We're vulnerable, and have to learn and practice even simple things like moving from one end of the spacecraft to the other in a spacesuit. We wear diapers up there.

    If we're going to be on Mars, it is therefore fitting that we should be cavemen. That's where we started, and that's where we will start again.
  • WHAT? (Score:5, Funny)

    by corifornia (995298) on Tuesday April 03, 2007 @12:03PM (#18590029) Homepage
    Holes? In the ground?
  • Princess Leia: The cave is collapsing!
    Han Solo: This is no cave...
    Princess Leia: What?!

    Mind you, things could be a lot worse. It's not like NASA has told us that contrary to all expectations, the thing orbiting the Earth is not a moon, it's a space station...
  • ...that we haven't yet planned on sending any kind of excavation equipment to do archaeological digs on Mars. I suspect that if we do, we'll be very surprised to find evidence of previous intelligent life and whole civilizations that existed quadrillions of years ago. At the least we could do an entire deep sonar survey of the planet to find potential digging sites. I should run NASA. I always come up with the good ideas.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      > I suspect that if we do, we'll be very surprised... If you suspect that you're going to be surprised, then it can't be a surprise after all. This is a consequence of a theorem from probability theory: your expectation of what you think your future expectation of something should be must match your current expectation of it.
      • by eno2001 (527078)
        Nice. But I wouldn't be surprised at all. I expect if we dig deep enough on Mars we'll find all sorts of interesting artifacts of ancient civilizations and alien remains. But I think most rational scientists would be very surprised because they don't expect that sort of thing until they do all this useless preamble stuff first. I say just go with the gut and dig in! I, for one, welcome our gigantic eight-legged skull people skeletons.
  • gigantic red murderous Martian cave bears....
  • ...just very deep, unremarkable holes.
  • There are solutional caves - caves formed by water - and there are lava-tube caves - caves (lava tubes, actually) formed by molten rock. When molten lava cools around other hotter lava, the hotter lava travels around the cooler, more solid, lava and sometimes drains out enough to create a pocket of, well, emptiness. Often times, lava tubes are not discovered until the ground gives way and opens into a pit to access the tube. Hawaii has lots of Lava tubes as do many areas near volcanoes.

    On Earth, the ground breaks up due to water-action and other biological means (animals, bacteria, humans, etc...). I'm sure on Mars there's another method to break open a lava tube...sandblasting due to a large storm on Mars' surface and the occasional meteorite.

    It's no surprise that Mars has caves - it makes sense. Whether or not those caves are solutional is what is important here.
  • by rifter (147452) on Tuesday April 03, 2007 @01:20PM (#18591303) Homepage

    Humans have been scrutinizing Mars to the best of their ability given available technology for centuries. We have sent probes to map the surface multiple times and robots to probe in various ways. And all this time we missed seven caves whose openings were larger than football fields (and in some cases larger than two football fields) which just happen to be near one of the most prominent features we know about. Whether these features are caves or not, the facts of their size and location should be a wakeup call to us as far as the limitations of our efforts thus far. Who knows what else we are missing; one must also wonder at the difficulty of finding microbes on a planet where we were unable to detect features of this size.

    I hope one day we can place colonies on Mars, as inhospitable as it is. Once we have done that we will be in a better position to explore the planet as we have ours. Every time we think we have found everything worth finding on Mars and further exploration will not yield any results that change our impression that it is a dull, lifeless planet whose only saving grace is that it is nearby we find something that surprises us. We can only hope this trend continues.

  • Wow, interesting news indeed! This, combined with the theories we may have fluid water not too far below the surface, is very interesting.
  • There are NOT caves on the SURFACE - the whole point of caves is they are inside something you know ;)
  • Great we are one step closer to finding the blue string soup.

God may be subtle, but he isn't plain mean. -- Albert Einstein

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