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Space + FlightSpace & Flight

Newly Discovered Super Volcanoes Rocked Ancient Mars

ByTim De ChantNOVA NextNOVA Next

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The surface of Mars is pocked with depressions, valleys, and craters. But not all are quite what they seem. Scientists announced this week that some of the huge craters weren’t caused by impacts, but by massive volcanoes.

Mars, like Earth, is thought to have a violent, volcanic history. This new patch of super volcanoes have calderas so large that, when they were active, they were practically windows into the planet’s smoking innards. Unlike other volcanoes on Mars, these are in a region previously not known to have had volcanic activity.

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Eden Patera, 44 miles wide at its widest, is thought to be the caldera of an ancient super volcano.

Researchers caution that all this activity came too early in Mars’s history to have had any impact on the development of life there, if we ever find evidence of it. Rather, it help fill out theories about the red planet’s early atmosphere.

Lee Rannals, writing for Red Orbit:

“This highly explosive type of eruption is a game-changer, spewing many times more ash and other material than typical, younger Martian volcanoes,” said Jacob E. Bleacher of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, who co-authored the paper. “During these types of eruptions on Earth, the debris may spread so far through the atmosphere and remain so long that it alters the global temperature for years.”

These super volcanoes are thought to have been active during Mars’s wettest period, an era that is of intense interest to Mars specialists.

Photo credit: ESA/Mars Express/Freie Universitat Berlin