A strangely shaped depression on Mars could be a new place to look for signs of life on the Red Planet, according to a University of Texas at Austin-led study. The depression was probably formed by a volcano beneath a glacier and could have been a warm, chemical-rich environment well suited for microbial life. The findings were published this month in Icarus.
“We were drawn to this site because it looked like it could host some of the key ingredients for habitability — water, heat and nutrients,” said lead author Joseph Levy, a research associate at the University of Texas Institute for Geophysics, a research unit of the Jackson School of Geosciences.
The depression is inside a crater perched on the rim of the Hellas basin on Mars and surrounded by ancient glacial deposits. It first caught Levy’s attention in 2009, when he noticed crack-like features on pictures of depressions taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter that looked similar to “ice cauldrons” on Earth, formations found in Iceland and Greenland made by volcanos erupting under an ice sheet. Another depression in the Galaxias Fossae region of Mars had a similar appearance. [More at links]