10 Wonders of the Solar System


3. Utopia Planitia: The Largest Impact Basin in the Solar System

Mars hosts the Utopia Planitia, which is observed to the largest impact basin across the solar system. Utopia Planitia has a massive crater that sprawls over more than 2,000 miles, which is roughly around 3,300 kilometers across the northern plains of the red planet. Since this impact basin is thought to have been formed in the earliest history of Mars, it is highly possible that Utopia Planitia could have been an ancient ocean once upon a time.

In 2016, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter sent into space by NASA featured an instrument that provide evidence to substantiate these claims upon discovery massive deposits of subsurface water ice underneath the impact basin. Planetary scientists believe that this basin holds the same amount of water volume as Lake Superior, and its deposits are embedded 3-33 feet, which is roughly around 10 meters underneath the surface.

Utopia Planitia: The Largest Impact Basin in the Solar System
Kevin Gill/Flickr

The existence of such a dynamic water resource will prove to be incredibly advantageous in supporting and sustaining human visits and missions to Mars. Scientists believe that these deposits on Mars will prove to be a more reliable water supply as compared to the majority of water ice found on the red planet since it has a comparatively low latitude, and is buried in a surface that is flat and smooth. Therefore, it is much easier and accessible to land a spacecraft in its surrounding surface as compared to the surface that features dense ice.

4. Enceladus’s Thick Ice Geysers

Enceladus happens to the second greatest moon orbiting Saturn, and astronomers reveal that there is strong evidence that it has a geologically active surface brimming with thick ice geysers. Enceladus also hosts a gigantic subsurface ocean filled with liquid water, and the estimated depth is around 6 miles, which makes up 10 km.

The splendid and super-thick ice geysers are by far the most fascinating and unique feature of Enceladus, and astronomers have managed to identify more than 100 of these ice geysers. It has been observed that these geysers emerge from the crevices within the surface of Enceladus, and emit sizeable plumes into the solar system.

Enceladus’s Thick Ice Geysers
NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

Back in 2015, the Cassini spacecraft was sent to travel across one of these plumes, and the astronomers observed the presence of saltwater that was brimming with organic molecules. More specifically, the Cassini mission identified the existence of molecular hydrogen, which is basically a chemical trait that signals the presence of hydrothermal activity.

From the perspective of a microbiologist and the energy of microbes, hydrogen is an incredibly essential chemical to promote energy generation. Hydrogen happens to be one of the vital chemical compounds that indicates the probability of sufficient energy to sustain microbial life. Astronomers and planetary scientists are currently researching whether the spectacular ice geysers of Enceladus are fit to host human life beyond Earth.


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