Apr 07, 2017 I Brett Tingley

Strange Circular Features on Mars Raise Questions

Whenever odd geographical features are pointed out in the Martian landscape, it’s always the same ol’ usual suspects (you know who) who pore over images of the strange-looking objects and cry ancient aliens or government conspiracy. The latest “strange thing on Mars” mystery, however, isn’t accompanied by a ten-minute long, rambling YouTube video with ominous background music. In fact, this one comes straight from the horse’s mouth - the NASA horse, that is.

NASA horse e1491491578720
Wait, wrong NASA horse.

In a press release, NASA released an image of an odd-looking circular feature near Mars’ icy South Pole photographed by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter’s HiRISE instrument (High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment). Usually, any circular depression or raised area is believed to be an impact crater. This particular feature, however, has NASA scientists baffled due to its unusual appearance.

mars2 1
The area displays features distinctly different  from other impact craters on the Martian surface.

The feature doesn’t quite match the prototypical image of an impact crater, but NASA theorizes that some type of deformation could have been caused by geological forces which alter the icy polar landscape:

[...] craters in icy terrain are modified by processes that flatten and change them in such a manner that it is hard to say for sure if it had an impact origin.

Naturally, because the space agency can’t definitively identify the feature, some sources have run wild with speculation. The image released by NASA is also remarkable for the scaly, lizard-skin looking texture the landscape appears to possess. 

lizard skin
Real lizard skin for comparison.

Not far from this strange crater-like object, NASA found another strange feature in the Martian landscape: a triple crater. It is believed the unusual three-headed crater was formed by a meteorite which broke into three pieces in the Martian atmosphere. Those pieces could have then impacted separately, creating the odd triple crater.

mars3 e1491491669569
The larger crater, bottom, is actually three craters in one.

This latest strange circular feature also closely resembles an odd funnel-shaped depression found last year which was speculated to possibly harbor microbial life. Like the odd crater-thing in this latest photograph, it is believed that unique Martian geological processes or volcanic activity could have given the crater its distinctive shape. The best part of all of these discoveries is not the speculation of alien geoengineering or ancient societies, but the fact that they are showing that planetary physics might behave completely differently on alien worlds. Who knows what strange geological wonders await us on distant exoplanets?

Brett Tingley

Brett Tingley is a writer and musician living in the ancient Appalachian mountains.

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