In a presentation in early October, a team of researchers from the Geological Society of America (GSA) identified 9 of what they believe to be the most habitable caves on Mars, meaning spaces large enough to provide future explorers much-needed protection against the harsh environment on the planet’s surface.

The Red Planet is a hostile place: temperatures can drop below -100°C, the atmosphere is incredibly thin and there is no ozone layer, which means solar radiation is also extreme. And that’s not to mention the very real risk of being hit by a massive meteorite.

In short, the best place to survive is very likely some caves on Mars.

Why are researchers looking for caves on Mars?

The researchers narrowed down the list of Martian properties, starting with the Mars Global Cave Candidate Catalog, a massive collection of more than 1,000 caves (identified by NASA’s Mars Odyssey and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter) that could potentially host human astronauts.

They whittled the list down to the best options, looking for those less than 96 kilometers from a potential landing site and less than 1,000 meters above sea level, which could give landing vehicles longer as they experience the “7 minutes of terror” during the journey to the surface, notes Futurism.

“Mars has just enough of an atmosphere that you can’t tell it doesn’t have it, but it’s not enough to actually give you a significant amount of aerobraking,” said Nicole Bardabelias of the University of Arizona, US, adding that it needs of “enough space between when you reach the top of the atmosphere and where you will need to land”.

The list has been narrowed down to the best candidates

The scientists ended up with 139 candidates that met the criteria, which they then analyzed to make sure they extended underground.

The largest of the 9 main candidates has an opening the size of a football field, a tantalizing prospect for future space travelers.

Unfortunately, NASA’s rovers aren’t close to any of these candidates right now, which means we won’t be able to get a surface-level look for a long time.

But that doesn’t stop us from imagining what future homes on the Red Planet might one day look like.

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