Nasa spots hole on Mars leading to cavern which could be home to 'Martian life'

It’s one of the biggest questions in the universe and one we’re no closer to answering: is there life on Mars?

Nasa is working hard to solve this conundrum, which will also allow us to work out whether the universe is teeming with alien organisms or a barren, empty and lifeless infinity of nothingness.

Now it’s released pictures of a mysterious hole which leads to the sort of place in which ‘Martian life’ might thrive.

The hole was discovered by analysing images of the dusty slopes of Mars’ Pavonis Mons volcano, which were snapped by the HiRISE instrument aboard the robotic Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter craft that’s currently orbiting Mars.

Nasa wrote: ‘The hole appears to be an opening to an underground cavern, partly illuminated on the image right.

‘Analysis of this and follow-up images revealed the opening to be about 35 meters across, while the interior shadow angle indicates that the underlying cavern is roughly 20 meters deep.

‘Why there is a circular crater surrounding this hole remains a topic of speculation, as is the full extent of the underlying cavern.

‘Holes such as this are of particular interest because their interior caves are relatively protected from the harsh surface of Mars, making them relatively good candidates to contain Martian life.

‘These pits are therefore prime targets for possible future spacecraft, robots, and even human interplanetary explorers.’

Scientists recently revealed that Nasa is losing water more quickly than previously estimated, which could affect its chances of hosting alien life.

A new study has found that water vapour is ‘accumulating in large quantities and unexpected proportions’ at an altitude of over 80 km in the Martian atmosphere.

Parts of its atmosphere are in a state of ‘super-saturation’ which means they contain more vapour than thought possible, meaning ‘the capacity of water to escape would greatly increase during certain seasons’.

What this means is that Mars could be drier than believed and therefore less likely to host life.

In a statement, the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique wrote: ‘The small red planet is losing water more quickly than theories and past observations would suggest.

‘The gradual disappearance of water (H2O) occurs in the upper atmosphere of Mars: sunlight and chemistry disassociate water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen atoms that the weak gravity of Mars cannot prevent from escaping into space.’

Once upon a time, Mars was a beautiful world of lakes, rivers and oceans.

But today it’s red, dead and appears to be totally devoid of extraterrestrial life.

Now Nasa has discovered evidence of a beautiful aurora on the Red Planet which will help scientists understand the processes which made it so inhospitably barren.

On Earth, the most famous auroras take place near the poles and are known as the Northern Lights.

But on Mars, they take place during the day and give off ultraviolet light, which means they cannot be seen by the naked eye.

However, Nasa has a spacecraft called MAVEN ((Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution) orbiting the Red Planet which is equipped with an instrument called the Imaging UltraViolet Spectrograph (IUVS) capable of detecting the aurora.

It’s thought that the aurora is generated by hydrogen from Martian water that’s currently escaping into space – a process which has been happening slowly for a very long time.

Nasa believes that understanding the aurora could shed light on the long process of water loss which is responsible for ‘transforming its climate from one that might have supported life to one that is cold, dry, and inhospitable’.

Andréa Hughes of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida. Hughes is the lead author of a paper on about the latest discovery.

She said: ”Perhaps one day, when interplanetary travel becomes commonplace, travellers arriving at Mars during southern summer will have front-row seats to observe Martian proton aurora majestically dancing across the dayside of the planet (while wearing ultraviolet-sensitive goggles, of course).

‘These travellers will witness firsthand the final stages of Mars losing the remainder of its water to space.’

And if we understand where the water went, we might be able to work out if Mars was ever hospitable to Earth or if it’s always been a lifeless world.

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