Evidence of Supervolcanoes on Mars Discovered
Massive formations found on Mars' surface are likely the remains of supervolcanoes, a new study published in the journal Nature suggests.
The paper focuses on a basin named Eden Patera, which Joe Michalski from the Planetary Science Institute and his colleague Jacob E. Bleacher, a scientist from NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, argue is not an impact crater as currently believed, but rather a volcanic caldera.
"On Mars, young volcanoes have a very distinctive appearance that allows us to identify them," Michalski said in a statement. "The long-standing question has been what ancient volcanoes on Mars look like. Perhaps they look like this one."
According to the study, a large body of magma containing high amounts of dissolved gas burst through Mars' thin crust like a bottle of shaken soda. The event it describes would have been so huge as to scatter debris for miles.
"This highly explosive type of eruption is a game-changer, spewing many times more ash and other material than typical, younger Martian volcanoes," Bleacher said. "During these types of eruptions on Earth, the debris may spread so far through the atmosphere and remain so long that it alters the global temperature for years."
Michalski first grew suspicious when he realized Eden Patera lacks the raised rim or nearby layer of ejecta typical of an impact crater.
The researcher contacted Bleacher, a volcano specialist, who then identified several features characteristic of volcanoes, including a series of rock ledges formed when a lava lake slowly drains.
Together, the scientists discovered additional nearby volcano candidates near Eden Patera, suggesting the surrounding region, known as Arabia Terra, might have been favorable for supervolcanoes.
If the researchers are right, the discovery would impact key theories regarding Mars' history.
"If just a handful of volcanoes like these were once active, they could have had a major impact on the evolution of Mars," Bleacher said.