Niagara Gazette

Web Extra

October 7, 2013

Scientists find evidence of Martian supervolcanoes

We've known for a long time that Mars has volcanoes; after all, Olympus Mons on the Martian Tharsis shield is the largest volcano in the solar system.

But there may have been a more powerful menace lurking just below the red planet's surface eons ago. A paper published last week in Nature (though the authors first reported about it in March at 44th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference) claims to have found evidence of supervolcanoes on Mars.

On Earth, a supervolcano is far larger than a regular volcano; they have huge chambers of magma that can be dozens of kilometers across (like under Yellowstone). They build slowly over hundreds of thousands of years, and erupt catastrophically, and can change the landscape and climate of nearly the entire planet.

In the northern hemisphere of Mars is a series of craters that have been thought to be from impacts. Mars is littered with impact craters, since it has little atmosphere and no running water to erode away ancient features. But the craters in question, most notably Eden Patera (85 by 55 kilometers in size, or 53 by 34 miles), are a bit odd. The entire area is actually lower than average, literally sunken, which is consistent with a supervolcano; once the magma under the surface erupts out, the ground around it collapses to fill the empty space.

Other features make it suspiciously un-impact-like. The crater isn't round, it has no rim, no ejecta (material blasted out from impact), and no central peak (which are common in large craters, like Tycho on the Moon). There are substantial flows of lava around the area, and more evidence of ancient volcanism. Also, benches, or flattened rings around the inside of the crater, are present, and these are common in volcanoes as lava lakes subside.

If Eden Patera (and several other craters seen in the Arabia Terra region of Mars) are in fact supervolcanoes, this changes how we see ancient Mars. Olympus Mons, for example, probably built itself up over eons with big eruptions, but not catastrophic enough that it blew itself apart. That's why it grew to such enormous size; 600 kilometers (370 miles) wide and 22 kilometers (14 miles) tall- Mars also lacks plate tectonics, so a single volcano can just sit in one spot and grow ever larger.

But supervolcanoes explode. Gas dissolved in the magma is pressurized underground, but once it hits the surface it expands violently, creating a massive explosion. This would have distributed volcanic output like ash for thousands of kilometers across the planet. In fact, fine-grained volcanic deposits have been found across the equatorial regions of Mars that are most likely from volcanoes, but no source volcano has ever been found. Moreover, the deposits are layered, which is expected as well from episodic supervolcano explosions. Similar features are seen on Earth.

It's not certain that these craters are in fact supervolcanoes, but it would explain a lot. As we investigate more of Mars we're sure to find features that were previously unknown, and our view of the red planet will no doubt continually evolve. Perhaps we'll find evidence to support this idea of supervolcanoes; perhaps we'll find contradictory data. Either way, the only way we'll know is to keep exploring, keep looking around, and keep learning.

          

1
Text Only | Photo Reprints
Web Extra
  • Gojira Japanese fans speak on the evolution of 'Godzilla'

    Japanese fans want it known: The radiation-breathing, skyscraper-stomping monster they call "Gojira" was born right here in Japan, 60 years ago.

    July 27, 2014 1 Photo

  • Bryan Yes! WWE's Daniel Bryan catches suspected burglar

    A former WWE champion known as Daniel Bryan chased two burglary suspects he saw exiting his Phoenix home this week and subdued one until officers arrived, investigators said.

    July 27, 2014 1 Photo

  • taylor.armerding.jpg AMERDING: Inequality crisis shot with factual problems, hypocrisy

    President Obama, various media and political liberals say inequality, of all things, is the defining issue of our times. Yet this message is delivered by multimillionaires and a president who jets from tee time to stump speech on the taxpayer's dime.
     

    July 27, 2014 1 Photo

  • Almost half of America's obese youth don't know they're obese

    The good news is that after decades of furious growth, obesity rates finally seem to be leveling off in the U.S.. The bad news is that America's youth still appear to be dangerously unaware of the problem.

    July 27, 2014

  • Can plants hear? Study finds that vibrations prompt some to boost their defenses

    They have no specialized structure to perceive sound as we do, but a new study has found that plants can discern the sound of predators through tiny vibrations of their leaves - and beef up their defenses in response.

    July 27, 2014

  • cleaning supplies Don't judge mothers with messy homes

    I was building shelves in my garage when a neighbor girl, one of my 4-year-old daughter's friends, approached me and said, "I just saw in your house. It's pretty dirty. Norah's mommy needs to clean more."

    July 26, 2014 1 Photo

  • Russia's war on McDonald's takes aim at the Filet-o-Fish

    Russia said earlier this week that it had no intention of answering Western sanctions by making it harder for Western companies to conduct business in Russia.
    But all bets are off, apparently, when you threaten the Russian waistline.

    July 26, 2014

  • How spy agencies keep their 'toys' from law enforcement

    A little over a decade ago, federal prosecutors used keystroke logging software to steal the encryption password of an alleged New Jersey mobster, Nicodemo Scarfo Jr., so they could get evidence from his computer to be used at his trial.

    July 26, 2014

  • Brother sues W.Va. senator over business loan

    U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin's brother claims he's owed $1.7 million that he loaned to keep a family carpet out of bankruptcy in the 1980s.

    July 26, 2014

  • NIA iPad pals art 1 120613 Has the iPad lost its swag?

    The company reported this week that sales of its sleek, pricey tablet were down 19 percent from last quarter and 9 percent year-over-year. CEO Tim Cook tried to reassure investors that Apple's new partnership with IBM to sell its devices to IBM's corporate customers will help make iPads ubiquitous in the workplace. "This isn't something that worries us," he said of the iPad sales decline. But the numbers are disappointing no matter how you spin them.

    July 25, 2014 1 Photo

Featured Ads
House Ads
AP Video
The Carbon Trap: US Exports Global Warming UN Security Council Calls for Gaza Cease-fire Traditional African Dishes Teach Healthy Eating 13 Struck by Lightning on Calif. Beach Baseball Hall of Famers Inducted Israel, Hamas Trade Fire Despite Truce in Gaza Italy's Nibali Set to Win First Tour De France Raw: Shipwrecked Concordia Completes Last Voyage Raw: Sea Turtle Hatchlings Emerge From Nest Raw: Massive Dust Storm Covers Phoenix 12-hour Cease-fire in Gaza Fighting Begins Raw: Bolivian Dancers Attempt to Break Record Raw: Israel, Palestine Supporters Rally in US Raw: Air Algerie Flight 5017 Wreckage Virginia Governor Tours Tornado Aftermath Judge Faces Heat Over Offer to Help Migrant Kids Kangaroo Goes Missing in Oklahoma More M17 Bodies Return, Sanctions on Russia Grow Raw: Deadly Tornado Hits Virginia Campground Ohio State Marching Band Chief Fired After Probe
Opinion
House Ads
Night & Day
Twitter News
Follow us on twitter
Hyperlocal Search
Premier Guide
Find a business

Walking Fingers
Maps, Menus, Store hours, Coupons, and more...
Premier Guide
Front page