News / Science & Technology

    Massive Martian Volcano Could Have Hosted Life

    File - The largest canyon in the Solar System cuts a wide swath across the face of Mars. Named Valles Marineris, the grand valley extends more than 3,000 kilometers long, spans as much as 600 kilometers across, and delves as much as 8 kilometers deep. Photo Cred
    File - The largest canyon in the Solar System cuts a wide swath across the face of Mars. Named Valles Marineris, the grand valley extends more than 3,000 kilometers long, spans as much as 600 kilometers across, and delves as much as 8 kilometers deep. Photo Cred

    Related Articles

    Video Hubble's Dazzling Mission Nears Its End

    After almost 25 years of breathtaking images from space, telescope has had its last repair

    New Mars Lander to Probe Interior of Red Planet

    Launching NASA-led multinational effort, scientists hope to a get better idea of what Earth might have looked like very early in its history
    It’s nearly two times the height of Mount Everest and one of the largest mountains in the solar system, and new research says if life ever existed on Mars, this could have been one of its last hideouts.
     
    The volcano Arsia Mons, while still active, was covered by an enormous glacier around 210 million years ago,  researchers from Brown University say.
     
    The heat from the eruptions on the northwest flank of the giant volcano “would have melted massive amounts of ice to form englacial lakes — bodies of water that form within glaciers like liquid bubbles in a half-frozen ice cube,” according to researchers.
     
    It is a commonly held view that where there’s liquid water, there could be life.
     
    “This is interesting because it’s a way to get a lot of liquid water very recently on Mars,” said Kat Scanlon, a graduate student at Brown who led the study in a statement.
     
    Compared to areas being probed by the various Mars rovers, which are some 2.5 billion years old, the area around Arsia Mons is young.
     
    “If signs of past life are ever found at those older sites, then Arsia Mons would be the next place I would want to go,” Scanlon said.
     
    Scanlon added that on early Mars, there is evidence that many craters were filled with water to depths of hundreds of meters, and were connected by flowing rivers to other crater lakes in long, continuous systems.

     
    Braided fluvial channels (inset) emerge from the edge of glacial deposits roughly 210 million years old on the martian volcano Arsia Mons, nearly twice as high as Mount Everest. (Colors indicate elevation.)Braided fluvial channels (inset) emerge from the edge of glacial deposits roughly 210 million years old on the martian volcano Arsia Mons, nearly twice as high as Mount Everest. (Colors indicate elevation.)
    x
    Braided fluvial channels (inset) emerge from the edge of glacial deposits roughly 210 million years old on the martian volcano Arsia Mons, nearly twice as high as Mount Everest. (Colors indicate elevation.)
    Braided fluvial channels (inset) emerge from the edge of glacial deposits roughly 210 million years old on the martian volcano Arsia Mons, nearly twice as high as Mount Everest. (Colors indicate elevation.)
    “Some or all of these lakes may have been frozen over for some or all of the year, but large aqueous environments existed across a large band of latitudes at that time,” she said in an email to VOA. “210 million years ago, Mars was already in the ‘Amazonian era,’ the current geologic era, and conditions were much like they are today--liquid water wasn't stable at the surface, and probably flowed only in rare, short-lived trickles.”
     
    She added that besides the possibility for underground aquifers, volcanic eruptions into large bodies of ice are one of the few ways large water bodies could come into being in Mars’ Amazonian era.
     
    Since the 1970s, scientists have thought the northwest flank of the giant mountain could have been covered by a giant glacier, which, at its peak size, could have been up to 166,000 square kilometers, said Scanlon.
     
    That theory received a significant boost when researchers showed the area looked “strikingly similar to landforms left by receding glaciers in the Dry Valleys of Antarctica.” The similarities included what appear to be moraines, telltale piles of rocks pushed aside by a moving glacier.
     
    Researchers said some small nearby hills also appear to be formed from glacial debris.
     
    Martian climate modeling also gave researchers reason to think there could have been glaciers on Arsia Mons. During the time in question, Mars would have been at an increased tilt, researchers said. This could have led ice from the polar region to migrate toward the equator.
     
    With compelling evidence that Arsia Mons was covered by a glacier, Scanlon and colleagues from the Lancaster Environmental Centre in the U.K   then looked at how volcanic activity would have interacted with the ice.
     
    Using data from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, they discovered “pillow lava formations” that are similar to what forms on Earth when an underwater volcano erupts. She also discovered “the kinds of ridges and mounds that form on Earth when a lava flow is constrained by glacial ice.”
     
    They also found evidence of a river formed when meltwater trapped in a glacier breaks free.
     
    Using this data, Scanlon and her team were able to calculate how much water the lava in those areas could have produced. At one of the sites, they estimated two lakes containing around 40 cubic kilometers of water each could have been formed. At the other a lake containing around 20 cubic kilometers of water could have existed.
     
    These lakes could have lasted “hundreds or even a few thousand years,” according to the study. That would have been ample time for colonies of microbial life to form if present on the Red Planet.
     
    “There’s been a lot of work on Earth — though not as much as we would like — on the types of microbes that live in these englacial lakes,” Scanlon said in a statement. “They’ve been studied mainly as an analog to [Saturn’s moon] Europa, where you’ve got an entire planet that’s an ice covered lake.”
     
    What happened to all that water?
     
    “Some of the water flowed out from the edge of the glacier and carved channels,” Scanlon wrote. “The rest of the englacial lakes seem to have refrozen in place.”
     
    She added that when the spin-axis tilt of Mars changed, most of the ice sublimed into water vapor and snowed out back at the poles where we see it today.
     
    “Ice is only stable at the equator, where Arsia Mons is located, when Mars's spin-axis tilt is very steep,” she wrote. “Some ice may still be present in the deposit where a thick cover of debris prevents it from subliming.”

    A paper describing Scanlon’s work is published in the journal Icarus.

    You May Like

    US, Allies Discuss Next Steps in Islamic State Fight

    Meeting comes a day after US Navy SEAL was killed while fighting Islamic State forces in northern Iraq

    In China, Traditional Banks Fight Challenge From Internet Firms

    Internet companies lent more than $150 billion to customers in 2015, which is an extremely small amount compared to the much larger lending by commercial banks last year

    Trump Faces Tough Presidential Odds Against Clinton

    Numerous national election surveys show former secretary of state defeating presumptive Republican nominee with tough talk to halt illegal immigration and temporarily block Muslims from entering country

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Press Freedom in Myanmar Fragile, Limitedi
    X
    Katie Arnold
    May 04, 2016 12:31 PM
    As Myanmar begins a new era with a democratically elected government, many issues of the past confront the new leadership. Among them is press freedom in a country where journalists have been routinely harassed or jailed.
    Video

    Video Press Freedom in Myanmar Fragile, Limited

    As Myanmar begins a new era with a democratically elected government, many issues of the past confront the new leadership. Among them is press freedom in a country where journalists have been routinely harassed or jailed.
    Video

    Video Taliban Threats Force Messi Fan to Leave Afghanistan

    A young Afghan boy, who recently received autographed shirts and a football from his soccer hero Lionel Messi, has fled his country due to safety concerns. He and his family are now taking refuge in neighboring Pakistan. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from Islamabad.
    Video

    Video Major Rubbish Burning Experiment Captures Destructive Greenhouse Gases

    The world’s first test to capture environmentally harmful carbon dioxide gases from the fumes of burning rubbish took place recently in Oslo, Norway. The successful experiment at the city's main incinerator plant, showcased a method for capturing most of the carbon dioxide. VOA’s Deborah Block has more.
    Video

    Video EU Visa Block Threatens To Derail EU-Turkey Migrant Deal

    Turkish citizens could soon benefit from visa-free travel to Europe as part of the recent deal between the EU and Ankara to stem the flow of refugees. In return, Turkey has pledged to keep the migrants on Turkish soil and crack down on those who are smuggling them. Brussels is set to publish its latest progress report Wednesday — but as Henry Ridgwell reports from London, many EU lawmakers are threatening to veto the deal over human rights concerns.
    Video

    Video Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Ruling

    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Painting Captures President Lincoln Assassination Aftermath

    A newly restored painting captures the moments following President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. It was recently unveiled at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, where America’s 16th president was shot. It is the only known painting by an eyewitness that captures the horror of that fateful night. VOA’s Julie Taboh tells us more about the painting and what it took to restore it to its original condition.
    Video

    Video Elephant Summit Results in $5M in Pledges, Presidential Support

    Attended and supported by three African presidents, a three-day anti-poaching summit has concluded in Kenya, resulting in $5 million in pledges and a united message to the world that elephants are worth more alive than dead. The summit culminated at the Nairobi National Park with the largest ivory burn in history. VOA’s Jill Craig attended the summit and has this report about the outcomes.
    Video

    Video Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroad

    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.
    Video

    Video Ethiopia’s Drought Takes Toll on Children

    Ethiopia is dealing with its worst drought in decades, thanks to El Nino weather patterns. An estimated 10 million people urgently need food aid. Six million of them are children, whose development may be compromised without sufficient help, Marthe van der Wolf reports for VOA from the Metahara district.
    Video

    Video Little Havana - a Slice of Cuban Culture in Florida

    Hispanic culture permeates everything in Miami’s Little Havana area: elderly men playing dominoes as they discuss politics, cigar rollers deep at work, or Cuban exiles talking with presidential candidates at a Cuban coffee window. With the recent rapprochement between Cuba and United States, one can only expect stronger ties between South Florida and Cuba.
    Video

    Video California Republicans Weigh Presidential Choices Amid Protests

    Republican presidential candidates have been wooing local party leaders in California, a state that could be decisive in selecting the party's nominee for U.S. president. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports delegates to the California party convention have been evaluating choices, while front-runner Donald Trump drew hundreds of raucous protesters Friday.
    Video

    Video ‘The Lights of Africa’ - Through the Eyes of 54 Artists

    An exhibition bringing together the work of 54 African artists, one from each country, is touring the continent after debuting at COP21 in Paris. Called "Lumières d'Afrique," the show centers on access to electricity and, more figuratively, ideas that enlighten. Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, the exhibition's first stop.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora