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

Brutality Eroding IS Financial Support

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper says IS's penchant for publicizing beheadings, other brutal forms of punishment hurts group’s bottom line More

Studies: Climate Change a Factor in Disasters in Syria, California

Studies point to possibility of clear and present dangers from a threat often considered to be far in the future More

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials and human rights organizations assert that Pakistani authorities are using deadly attack at school in Peshawar as pretext to push out Afghan refugees More

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.
Kerry Seeks Assurances of Russian Non-Interference in Ukrainei
X
March 03, 2015 3:11 AM
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has told his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, that his country could face further consequences to what he called its “already strained economy” if Moscow does not fully comply with a cease-fire in Ukraine. The two met, on Monday, on the sidelines of a U.N. Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, where Kerry outlined human rights violations in Russian-annexed Crimea and eastern Ukraine. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports from Geneva.
Video

Video Kerry Seeks Assurances of Russian Non-Interference in Ukraine

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has told his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, that his country could face further consequences to what he called its “already strained economy” if Moscow does not fully comply with a cease-fire in Ukraine. The two met, on Monday, on the sidelines of a U.N. Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, where Kerry outlined human rights violations in Russian-annexed Crimea and eastern Ukraine. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports from Geneva.
Video

Video Smartphones May Help in Diagnosing HIV

Diagnosing infections such as HIV requires expensive clinical tests, making the procedure too costly for many poor patients or those living in remote areas. But a new technology called lab-on-a-chip may make the tests more accessible to many. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials have expressed concern over reports of a crackdown on Afghan refugees in Pakistan following the Peshawar school attack in December. Reports of mass arrests and police harassment coupled with fear of an uncertain future are making life difficult for a population that fled its homeland to escape war. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports from Islamabad.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Prepare to Defend Mariupol

Despite the ongoing ceasefire in Ukraine, soldiers in the city of Mariupol fear that pro-Russian separatists may be getting ready to attack. The separatists must take or encircle the city if they wish to gain land access to Crimea, which was annexed by Russia early last year. But Ukrainian forces, many of them volunteers, say they are determined to defend it. Patrick Wells reports from Mariupol.
Video

Video Moscow Restaurants Suffer in Bad Economy, Look for Opportunity

As low oil prices and Western sanctions force Russia's economy into recession, thousands of Moscow restaurants are expected to close their doors. Restaurant owners face rents tied to foreign currency, while rising food prices mean Russians are spending less when they dine out. One entrepreneur in Moscow has started a dinner kit delivery service for those who want to cook at home to save money but not skimp on quality. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video US, Cuba Report Progress in Latest Talks to Restore Ties

The United States and Cuba say they have made progress in the second round of talks on restoring diplomatic relations more than 50 years after breaking off ties. Delegations from both sides met in Washington on Friday to work on opening embassies in Havana and Washington and iron out key obstacles to historic change. VOA’s Mary Alice Salinas reports from the State Department.
Video

Video Presidential Hopefuls Battle for Conservative Hearts and Minds

One after another, presumptive Republican presidential contenders auditioned for conservative support this week at the Conservative Political Action Conference held outside Washington. The rhetoric was tough as a large field of potential candidates tried to woo conservative support with red-meat attacks on President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress. VOA Political Columnist Jim Malone takes a look.
Video

Video NYC's Restaurant Week: An Economic Boom in Fine Dining

New Yorkers take pride in setting world trends — in fashion, the arts and fine dining. The city’s famous biannual Restaurant Week plays a significant role in a booming tourism industry that sustains 359,000 jobs and generates $61 billion in yearly revenue. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports.
Video

Video Brookhaven at Cutting Edge of US Energy Research

Issues like the Keystone XL pipeline, fracking and instability in the Middle East are driving debate in the U.S. about making America energy independent. Recently, the American Energy Innovation Council urged Congress and the White House to make expanded energy research a priority. One beneficiary of increased energy spending would be the Brookhaven National Lab, where clean, renewable, efficient energy is the goal. VOA's Bernard Shusman reports.
Video

Video Southern US Cities Preserve Civil Rights Heritage to Boost Tourism

There has been a surge of interest in the American civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s, thanks in part to the Hollywood motion picture "Selma." Five decades later, communities in the South are embracing the dark chapters of their past with hopes of luring tourism dollars. VOA's Chris Simkins reports.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More