Mars hole

Curiosity and a Martian sinkhole

NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day today is particularly interesting — a hole in the surface of Mars. We’ve seen craters, plains, the tracings of flowing water, etc. But this hole appears to be an opening into a subsurface cavern of some kind, much like an earthly sinkhole over an old mineshaft.

The hole was discovered in images of the slopes of Mars’ Pavonis Mons volcano sent from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Such holes have been seen before and have led to speculation by scientists that protected subterranean caverns might be the best place to find any existing Martian lifeforms.

Mars hole
Image Credit: NASA, JPL, U. Arizona

Curiosity, our next Mars exploration vehicle, is due to land on the planet’s surface August 6. Or at least, try to land. This video from NASA explains the incredible complexity of the landing:


Curiosity is five times as large as either of the existing Mars Exploration Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, and carries more than ten times the mass of scientific instruments present on the older vehicles. This video and its extensive accompanying notes on YouTube explain how Curiosity differs from previous Mars explorers:

What sets Curiosity apart from other Mars Rovers?

(Sorry. Couldn’t get this one embedded.)


9 thoughts on “Curiosity and a Martian sinkhole

  1. What an excellent clip! Thanks, PT!

    This looks like another good engineering step in autonomous robotics, but still far from the self-awareness that’s really needed when the unexpected happens. (Let’s hope a big sink hole doesn’t open up under the Rover just as it lands – it would look like a road-runner cartoon!) I’m still impatiently waiting for the development of Asimov’s positronic robot brain.

    1. I won’t be content with robots; I want to see plans for a man on Mars. Meantime, the robotic explorers are exciting and I’ll be cheering like mad if this complex Curiosity landing is successful.

  2. Pretty cool. To bad they have to waste the landing rockets through. I’m pretty sure that thing isn’t landing nicely somewhere. If we didn’t have to worry about the dust cloud, we could use it to “jump” the rover from place to place on the surface, but maybe that’s not necessary to cover long distances, and there’s always the fuel cost to consider – the weight of it. I hope this works. I don’t want to hear, “yeah, it’s been twelve hours and we still haven’t received a signal.”

  3. Thanks for posting about this! I’d completely forgotten about this mission. That crater sort of looks like something you’d see in the snow.

    1. I’m not sure I’d even heard of this mission before seeing a few news reports about the upcoming landing.

      I first saw the photo as a cone projecting up from the surface. Reminded me of a chameleon’s eye. Weird.

... and that's my two cents