Space

Flat volcanoes hint at an icy ancient Mars

Flat volcanoes hint at an icy ...
Two potential subglacial volcanoes are highlighted in red, while the relief displays the disposition of sulphates and iron oxide
Two potential subglacial volcanoes are highlighted in red, while the relief displays the disposition of sulphates and iron oxide
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Two potential subglacial volcanoes are highlighted in red, while the relief displays the disposition of sulphates and iron oxide
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Two potential subglacial volcanoes are highlighted in red, while the relief displays the disposition of sulphates and iron oxide
Image of Mars' southern ice cap as seen by the Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft
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Image of Mars' southern ice cap as seen by the Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft

NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) has discovered evidence of ancient volcanoes on the surface of the Red Planet. They are believed to have erupted under a sheet of ice, despite the fact that they were discovered around 1,000 miles (1,609 km) away from the vast southern Martian ice cap.

The MRO's CompactReconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer (CRISM) detected zeolites, sulfates and clays at a number of the potential eruption sites in the Sisyphi Montes region of Mars. These minerals, as well as the distinctive flat-top shape of the features, bear a striking resemblance to the aftermath of subglacial volcanic events observed back on Earth.

Image of Mars' southern ice cap as seen by the Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft
Image of Mars' southern ice cap as seen by the Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft

As recently as 2010, the vast and difficult to pronounce Eyjafjallajökull subglacial volcano erupted in spectacular fashion, spewing ash miles into the air above Iceland, wreaking havoc with air travel.

Whilst they may be a majestic hazard back on Earth, the presence of the distinctive subglacial volcanoes on Mars hints at a very different environment to the arid landscape we see today. It is possible that the ice sheets covering the poles of the Red Planet extended over a far greater area, and that volcanic eruptions under the sheets could have generated vast quantities of heat and moisture, two conditions that are extremely favorable to microbial life.

Source: NASA

1 comment
1 comment
TomC
The longstanding explanation for the stability of Earth's axis is the presence of our large moon. Mars lacks a large moon, so it wobbles, on a geologic timescale. The ice caps on Mars never needed to be any bigger than they are now to explain the sub-glacial volcanic eruptions, the spin axis had just wobbled so that the volcano was under the ice at that time. The "heart" on Pluto has a similar origin.