Evidence of Recently Active Volcanoes on Mars Could Raise Possibility of Habitable Conditions

Recent explosive volcanic deposit around a fissure of the Cerberus Fossae system. Credit: NASA/JPL/MSSS/The Murray Lab).

Evidence of recent volcanic activity on Mars shows that eruptions could have taken place within the past 50,000 years, a paper by Planetary Science Institute Research Scientist David Horvath says.

Most volcanism on the Red Planet occurred between 3 and 4 billion years ago, with smaller eruptions in isolated locales continuing perhaps as recently as 3 million years ago. But, until now, there was no evidence to indicate whether Mars could still be volcanically active.

Using data from satellites orbiting Mars, the research team found evidence of an eruption in a region called Elysium Planitia that would be the youngest known volcanic eruption on Mars, said Horvath, lead author on “Evidence for geologically recent explosive volcanism in Elysium Planitia, Mars,” which appears in Icarus.

“This feature is a mysterious dark deposit, covering an area slightly larger than Washington, D.C. It has a high thermal inertia, includes high‑calcium pyroxene-rich material, and is distributed symmetrically around a segment of the Cerberus Fossae fissure system in Elysium Planitia, atypical of aeolian—or wind-driven—deposits in the region. This feature is similar to dark spots on the Moon and Mercury suggested to be explosive volcanic eruptions,” Horvath said. “This may be the youngest volcanic deposit yet documented on Mars. If we were to compress Mars’s geologic history into a single day, this would have occurred in the very last second.”

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SOURCE: Phys.org, Planetary Science Institute