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COTTONWOOD, CA – A group of seventh-graders has made an incredible discovery!

NASA has found its next batch of scientists and they haven’t even finished grade school. A group of seventh-graders at Evergreen Middle School has discovered a mysterious cave on Mars as part of a research project to study images taken by a NASA spacecraft orbiting the red planet.

The 16 students were part of Dennis Mitchell’s 7th-grade science class. Their discovery may be a Martian skylight which is a hole in the roof of a cave on Mars.

The students were participating in the Mars Student Imaging Program at the Mars Space Flight Facility at Arizona State University. The program is designed to allow students to frame a research question and then commission a Mars-orbiting camera to take an image to answer their question.

The caves are thought to result from volcanic activity on the red planet. At some point lava channels likely carved out caverns in the rock, and then left behind tunnels, or “lava tubes,” when the eruptions were overs. They would have been covered when a solid ceiling of cooled material settled on top, and the sections of the celling likely collapsed at some point to form the skylight entrances.

“This pit is certainly new to us,” Glen Cushing, a U.S. Geological Survey scientist, told the students. “And it is only the second one known to be associated with Pavonis Mons.”

The students had originally set out to hunt for lava tubes.

“The students developed a research project focused on finding the most common locations of lava tubes on Mars,” Mitchell said. “Do they occur most often near the summit of a volcano, on its flanks, or the plains surrounding it?”

The students have submitted their site to be further imaged by the High Resolution Imaging Scientist Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which could reveal enough detail to see inside.