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

Turkey: No Ransom Paid for Release of Hostages Held by IS Militants

President Erdogan hails release of hostages as diplomatic success but declines to be drawn on whether their release freed Ankara's hand to take more active stance against insurgents More

Audio Sierra Leone Ends Ebola Lockdown

Health ministry says it has reached 75 percent of its target of visiting 1.5 million homes to locate infected, educate population about virus More

US Pivot to Asia Demands Delicate Balancing Act

As tumult in Middle East distracts Obama administration, efforts to shift American focus eastward appear threatened 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.
Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Towni
X
Deborah Block
September 21, 2014 2:12 PM
A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Town

A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Difficult Tactical Battle Ahead Against IS Militants in Syria

The U.S. president has ordered the military to intensify its fight against the Islamic State, including in Syria. But how does the military conduct air strikes in a country that is not a U.S. ally? VOA correspondent Carla Babb reports from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Iran, World Powers Seek Progress in Nuclear Talks

Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5 + 1, have started a new round of talks on Iran's nuclear program. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports that as the negotiations take place in New York, a U.S. envoy is questioning Iran's commitment to peaceful nuclear activity.
Video

Video Alibaba Shares Soar in First Day of Trading

China's biggest online retailer hit the market Friday -- with its share price soaring on the New York Stock Exchange. The shares were priced at $68, but trading stalled at the opening, as sellers held onto their shares, waiting for buyers to bid up the price. More on the world's biggest initial public offering from VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York.
Video

Video Obama Goes to UN With Islamic State, Ebola on Agenda

President Obama goes to the United Nations General Assembly to rally nations to support a coalition against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. He also will look for nations to back his plan to fight the Ebola virus in West Africa. As VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports, Obama’s efforts reflect new moves by the U.S. administration to take a leading role in addressing world crises.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Militant Assault in Syria Displaces Thousands of Kurds

A major assault by Islamic State militants on Kurds in Syria has sent a wave of new refugees to the Turkish border, where they were stopped by Turkish border security. Turkey is already hosting about 700,000 Syrian refugees who fled the civil war between the government and the opposition. But the government in Ankara has a history of strained relations with Turkey's Kurdish minority. Zlatica Hoke reports Turkey is asking for international help.
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.
AppleAndroid