A bizarre circular landform on Mars has scientists scratching their heads. NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Spacecraft (MRO) spotted the enigmatic feature, which looks something like a lumpy pancake, in the Red Planet’s Athabasca region.
The circle is about 1.2 miles (2 kilometers) in diameter, according to a statement by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif. The space agency describes it as “a circular island surrounded by a ‘sea’ of smooth-looking lava flows.”
Because some of the youngest lava flows on Mars are seen in the Athabasca region, scientists think it likely that some sort of volcanism created the mystifying feature.
“Perhaps lava has intruded underneath this mound and pushed it up from beneath,” JPL officials said. “It looks as if material is missing from the mound, so it is also possible that there was a significant amount of ice in the mound that was driving out by the heat of the lava.”
The space agency said it hopes that closer examination of the image by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment camera (HiRISE)—one of six instruments on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter—will shed light on the mysterious formation.
Intriguingly, a variety of weird geographical features are found in the Red Planet’s once volcanically active Athabasca region. Undulating mounds, sand dunes shaped like tear-drops or arranged in honeycomb patterns, are all signatures of ancient geologic activity on Mars. A cool slide show of these mysterious features can be found at huffingtonpost.com
The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) was launched in August, 2005 and entered orbit around the fourth planet from the Sun in March, 2006. Its array of scientific instruments have provided NASA and the world with some stunning discoveries.
In 2009, radar measurements of Mars’ north polar ice cap showed that the volume of water it contains amounts to about one-third of the Greenland ice sheet here on Earth.
And data from the MRO also has helped scientists confirm a finding of large deposits of chloride minerals on Mars. These suggest that mineral-rich waters once flowed across the Martian landscape.