NASA scientists have found evidence that thousands of massive ancient volcanoes erupted on Mars.
The so-called “super eruptions” occurred in a region of northern Mars called Arabia Terra over a period of 500 million years dating back to about 4 billion years.
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Researchers who studied the topography and mineral composition of the area made the discovery, and the news was published in an article in the journal Geophysical Research Letters in July 2021.
“Each of these eruptions would have had a significant climate impact – perhaps the gas released made the atmosphere thicker or blocked the sun and made the atmosphere cooler,” Patrick Whelley, geologist at Goddard Space Flight Center from NASA which led the Arabia Terra analysis. , said in a statement. “Martian climate modelers will have work to do in trying to understand the impact of volcanoes.”
Seven calderas – giant holes created at volcanic eruption sites – were the “first gifts”.
Calderas were initially thought to be depressions caused by asteroid impacts, but scientists noticed in 2013 that they showed signs of collapsing and were not perfectly round.
“We read this article and were interested in the follow-up, but instead of looking for the volcanoes themselves, we looked for the ash because you can’t hide this evidence,” Whelley said.
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Working with Alexandra Matiella Novak, a volcanologist at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab, the team looked at surface minerals and extracted previous work that had calculated where ash from possible super eruptions would have fallen.
Using images from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Compact Imaging Reconnaissance Spectrometer, they studied the walls of canyons and craters hundreds or even thousands of kilometers from calderas, identifying volcanic minerals turned into clay by water. .
They made three-dimensional topographic maps of Arabia Terra and compared the mineral data to the maps to see that the ash layers were well preserved.
NASA will use calculations of how much material would have exploded from volcanoes based on the volume of each caldera to determine the number of eruptions.
The question of how a planet could have a single type of volcano in a region remains.
“It is possible that super-eruptive volcanoes were concentrated in regions of the Earth but were physically and chemically eroded or moved around the world as continents moved due to plate tectonics,” indicates the statement from NASA. “These types of explosive volcanoes could also exist in regions of Jupiter’s moon or could have been clustered on Venus.”