Large volcano on Mars hiding in plain sight

Graphic of giant volcano on Mars showing location of newly discovered volcano with other regions labeled.
The newly found large volcano on Mars is simply south of the planet’s equator, in jap Noctis Labyrinthus. It’s simply west of Valles Marineris, the planet’s well-known canyon system. The volcano sits on the jap fringe of a broad rise known as Tharsis, dwelling to three different well-known large volcanoes: Ascraeus Mons, Pavonis Mons, and Arsia Mons. Though extra eroded and never as tall, the newly found volcano rivals the others in diameter. It’s about 450 km (280 miles) throughout (pink dashed circle). Potential buried glacial ice could also be underneath a comparatively latest volcanic deposit. Picture by way of SETI/ NASA/ USGS/ Pascal Lee & Sourabh Shubham 2024.
  • Scientists found a large Martian volcano hiding in plain sight close to the planet’s equator.
  • The closely eroded volcano supplies perception into Mars’ evolution over time.
  • Situations for all times could exist there, as doable glacial stays lie on the volcano’s base, creating a possible vacation spot for future scientific exploration.

SETI revealed this authentic article on March 13, 2024. Edits by EarthSky.

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Large volcano on Mars hiding in plain sight

On the fifty fifth Lunar and Planetary Science Convention held in The Woodlands, Texas, scientists revealed the invention of a large volcano and a doable sheet of buried glacial ice. The invention is from the jap a part of Mars’ Tharsis volcanic province, close to the planet’s equator. Mars-orbiting spacecraft have imaged this area repeatedly since Mariner 9 in 1971. However the area is deeply eroded past straightforward recognition, so the large volcano had been hiding in plain sight for many years.

The newly discovered volcano lies in one among Mars’ most iconic areas. It’s on the boundary between the closely fractured maze-like Noctis Labyrinthus (Labyrinth of the Evening) and the monumental canyons of Valles Marineris (Valleys of Mariner).

Large volcano on Mars named Noctis volcano

Briefly designated Noctis volcano pending an official identify, the construction’s middle is at 7° 35′ S, 93° 55′ W. It reaches 9,022 meters (29,600 ft) in elevation and spans 450 kilometers (280 miles) in width. The volcano’s gigantic dimension and complicated modification historical past point out it’s been lively for a really very long time. Its southeastern sections have a skinny, latest volcanic deposit beneath which glacial ice is probably going nonetheless current. This mixed large volcano and doable glacial ice discovery is important. It factors to an thrilling new location to check Mars’ geologic evolution by time, seek for life and discover with robots and people sooner or later.

A map of Mars and its volcanic region with colors from white to red to yellow and aqua.
Topographic map exhibiting the enduring location of the Noctis volcano between the biggest volcanic and canyon provinces on Mars. Picture by way of SETI/ NASA/ MGS/ MOLA/ Pascal Lee & Sourabh Shubham 2024.

Discovery of the large volcano on Mars

Pascal Lee, a planetary scientist with the SETI Institute and the Mars Institute primarily based at NASA Ames Analysis Middle, was the lead writer of the examine. Lee mentioned:

We had been analyzing the geology of an space the place we had discovered the stays of a glacier final 12 months once we realized we had been inside an enormous and deeply eroded volcano.

A number of clues give away the volcanic nature of the jumbled, layered mesas and canyons on this a part of Noctis Labyrinthus. The central summit space has a number of elevated mesas forming an arc. These areas attain a regional excessive and slope downhill away from the summit space. The light outer slopes lengthen out to 225 kilometers (140 miles) away in numerous instructions. A caldera remnant – the stays of a collapsed volcanic crater – is close to the middle of the construction. Lava flows, pyroclastic deposits (made from volcanic particulate supplies resembling ash, cinders, pumice and tephra) and hydrated mineral deposits happen in a number of areas throughout the construction’s perimeter.

Side by side image showing lifelike color with false color of the volcanic region.
Right here’s altimetry evaluation from NASA’s Mars International Surveyor (MGS) Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter, NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) Excessive Decision Imaging Science Experiment and Context Imager, and ESA’s Mars Categorical Excessive Decision Stereo Digital camera. The topographic map on the correct exhibits the “relict glacier” found in 2023 and Noctis Touchdown, a candidate for future robotic and human exploration. Picture by way of SETI/ Left: Mars Categorical HRSC shade mosaic © ESA/DLR/FU Berlin CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO; Proper identical as Left; NASA MGS MOLA/ Pascal Lee & Sourabh Shubham 2024.

A smoking gun

Sourabh Shubham, a graduate pupil on the College of Maryland’s Division of Geology and the examine’s co-author, defined:

This space of Mars is understood to have all kinds of hydrated minerals spanning an extended stretch of Martian historical past. A volcanic setting for these minerals had lengthy been suspected. So, it might not be too stunning to discover a volcano right here. In some sense, this huge volcano is a long-sought ‘smoking gun’.

The examine additionally stories the invention of a giant, 5,000-square-kilometer (1,930-sq-mi) space of volcanic deposits. The deposits throughout the volcano’s perimeter encompass many low, rounded and elongated, blister-like mounds. Scientists interpret this “blistered terrain” as a subject of “rootless cones,” mounds produced by explosive steam venting or swelling. This venting occurs when a skinny blanket of scorching volcanic supplies involves relaxation on high of a water or ice-rich floor.

False color in the cracks of the volcanic region.
The Noctis volcano doesn’t current the standard cone form of a typical volcano. Its lengthy historical past of deep fracturing and erosion has modified it. Nevertheless, upon shut inspection, we will discover a number of key options indicative of a volcano. Picture by way of SETI/ NASA/ MRO/ HiRISE/ CTX/ MGO/ MOLA/ Pascal Lee & Sourabh Shubham 2024.

Stays of a glacier

Only a 12 months in the past, Lee, Shubham and their colleague John W. Schutt had recognized the spectacular stays of a glacier. They did so by a sizeable erosional opening in the identical volcanic blanket. The researchers noticed a light-toned deposit of sulfate salt with the morphologic traits of a glacier. They interpreted the sulfate deposit – made primarily of jarosite (a hydrous sulfate) – shaped when the blanket of volcanic pyroclastic supplies got here to relaxation on a glacier and reacted chemically with the ice. Breached rootless cones recognized within the present examine present comparable occurrences of polyhydrated sulfates. This additional suggests the burned volcanic blanket could also be hiding an enormous sheet of glacial ice beneath it.

View of Martian volcano and glacier area with sulfates etc. labeled.
The southeastern a part of the Noctis volcano has a well-preserved volcanic lava circulation and pyroclastic deposit. These counsel the volcano remained lively even in comparatively latest occasions. The pyroclastic deposit presents “blisters” at its floor. These are “rootless cones,” or steam vents produced when the new pyroclastic supplies got here involved with water ice. Breaches within the pyroclastic deposit reveal light-toned deposits of sulfate salts, anticipated merchandise of chemical reactions between pyroclastic supplies and water ice. Glacial ice would possibly nonetheless be preserved, solely protected underneath a skinny layer of sulfate salts. Picture by way of SETI/ NASA/ MRO/ HiRISE/ CTX/ CRISM/ Pascal Lee & Sourabh Shubham 2024.

The historical past of the volcano

The Noctis volcano presents an extended and complicated historical past of modification. That historical past could also be from a mix of fracturing, thermal erosion and glacial erosion. Researchers imagine the volcano is an enormous defend of layered accumulations of pyroclastic supplies, lavas and ice. The ice resulted from repeated buildups of snow and glaciers on its flanks by time. As fractures and faults ultimately developed – specifically in reference to the uplift of the broader Tharsis area on which the volcano sits – lavas started to rise. The lava rose by totally different components of the volcano, resulting in thermal erosion and the elimination of huge quantities of buried ice. Finally, it led to the catastrophic collapse of total sections of the volcano.

Subsequent glaciations continued their erosion, giving many canyons throughout the construction their current distinctive form. On this context, the “relict glacier” and the doable buried sheet of glacial ice round it is likely to be remnants of the newest glaciation episode affecting the Noctis volcano.

Mysteries stay

However a lot in regards to the newly found large volcano stays a thriller. Though it’s clear it’s been lively for a very long time and commenced to construct up early in Mars’ historical past, it’s unknown how early. Equally, though it skilled eruptions in fashionable occasions, it’s unknown if it’s nonetheless volcanically lively and would possibly erupt once more. And if it’s been lively for a very long time, may the mixture of sustained heat and water from ice have allowed the location to harbor life?

The positioning is already rising as an thrilling new location to check Mars’ geologic evolution, seek for life and plan future robotic and human exploration. The doable presence of glacial ice at shallow depths close to the equator means people may probably discover a much less frigid a part of the planet whereas nonetheless with the ability to extract water for hydration and manufacturing rocket gasoline.

Causes to be excited

Lee mentioned:

It’s actually a mix of issues that makes the Noctis volcano web site exceptionally thrilling. It’s an historic and long-lived volcano so deeply eroded that you can hike, drive or fly by it to look at, pattern and date totally different components of its inside to check Mars’ evolution by time. It has additionally had an extended historical past of warmth interacting with water and ice, which makes it a chief location for astrobiology and our seek for indicators of life. Lastly, with glacial ice probably nonetheless preserved close to the floor in a comparatively heat equatorial area on Mars, the place is wanting very engaging for robotic and human exploration.

Backside line: A large volcano on Mars has been hiding in plain sight. It has skilled eruptions in “fashionable occasions” and will erupt once more. It’s additionally the location of glacial ice, which has implications for locating life on Mars or for human exploration of the planet.

By way of SETI

Learn extra: Extra proof Mars remains to be volcanically alive

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