Space

ESA spacecraft detects the presence of enormous Martian supervolcano

ESA spacecraft detects the pre...
Perspective shot of Siloe Patera
Perspective shot of Siloe Patera
View 4 Images
Perspective shot of Siloe Patera
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Perspective shot of Siloe Patera
Mars Express top-down image of the Siloe Patera structure and surrounding area
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Mars Express top-down image of the Siloe Patera structure and surrounding area
Topographic color-coded map of the Arabia Terra region of Mars
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Topographic color-coded map of the Arabia Terra region of Mars
Arabia Terra region of Mars captured by the Mars Express High Resolution Stereo Camera, with Siloe Patera highlighted in the inner white box
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Arabia Terra region of Mars captured by the Mars Express High Resolution Stereo Camera, with Siloe Patera highlighted in the inner white box

ESA's Mars Expressorbiter has captured images that may indicate the presence ofsupervolcanoes on the surface of Mars. If the findings are laterconfirmed, the existence of these leviathan volcanoes may greatlyinform current theories on climate formation, as eruptions from thesupervolcanoes could have dramatically altered the Martian globalenvironment.

A supervolcano isessentially a giant volcano capable of spewing forth over 1,000 km³(240 miles³)of volcanic materials into the surrounding environment, producing avast caldera in the process. A caldera is a broaddepression created when the ground collapses as magma withdraws fromthe surface. A number of scientists now believe that the Siloe Patera"craters" and others like it are actually the remnant of asupervolcano caldera.

These terrifying, world-altering giants exist on Earth as well. The most famous terrestrialsupervolcano resides in the Yellowstone National Park. It is believedthat any major eruption at Yellowstone could seriously affect Earth'sglobal environment. Whilst the Siloe Patera caldera is smaller thanthat of Yellowstone, measuring around 40 x 30 km (25 x 19 miles),it and others like it could have played a significant role inenvironmental evolution.

Topographic color-coded map of the Arabia Terra region of Mars
Topographic color-coded map of the Arabia Terra region of Mars

However, the questionmust first be answered – how do we know that Siloe Patera isn't justanother crater? Ordinarily, volcanoes form steadily, creating thefamiliar mountain like slope that we have come to expect. Whilstsupervolcanoes don't follow this developmental path, there are anumber of defining characteristics that can be used to separate thetwo geological features.

For example, a standardimpact crater would boast a raised central point, an uplifted craterwall and an ejecta blanket of debris, all of which Siloe Pateralacks. However, it must be noted that the appearance of some of thesefeatures may have been eroded over the course of thousands of years.

Furthermore, the areain which the potential supervolcanoes are found, Arabia Terra, ismade up of layered sulphate and clay-bearing materials, which wouldsupport the theory that it was once a region that played host tointense volcanic activity. Further observation and study will beneeded to ascertain whether the structures are indeed the result ofsupervolcanoes, or simply eroded craters.

Source: ESA

2 comments
Michael Flower
Great, another Future Mars Colony structure...
Nik
What I see is a very large crater, but with no signs of lava flows, and another smaller crater overlapping, not characteristic of volcanic activity that I've ever seen pictures of.