Martian Mesas and Pits Play Tricks on the Eyes, We Don’t Know What Made Them


There are so many mysterious places and features on Mars it’s easy to get all kinds of hopes up. If we’re realists, the hopes of learning something new about the place with every step; if we’re scientists, hopes of finding signs of past life; and if we’re dreamers, the hopes of finding signs of intelligent life.

The constant stream of photos coming our way courtesy of the HiRISE camera on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter constantly fuels our imagination. And that fuel burns even hotter every time we hear scientists from NASA or the University of Arizona, who operate the device, admit they have no idea what something is or how it came to be.

The image we have here is the perfect example of that. It was captured by HiRISE back in 2016, from an altitude of 300 km, on the higher limit of the orbiter’s path around the planet.

We’re not told exactly what portion of the planet the image depicts, but it’s one that shows both mesas and pits. Mesas are flat-topped hills with steep hides, while pits, well, we all know what those mean.

Mars has plenty of such features to go around, but the double image we have here plays a particular trick on the eyes. You can either see mesas to the north and pits to the south, or the other way around. The correct way to see this, says NASA, is mesas to the north and pits to the south.

No matter how you look at it though, to some the image may seem to depict the remnants of some strangely-built Martian city, and the footprints of the creatures that inhabited them. That’s because of the that pareidolia thing we keep mentioning.

What’s even more revealing to our inability to properly understand the planet is the fact we don’t know exactly how these features came to be. Or, as NASA says, “what formed these mesas and pits is a question that is not so easy to answer.”