An ocean once surrounded the tallest volcano in the Solar System

An ocean once surrounded the tallest volcano in the Solar System

New evidence suggests that Olympus Mons was once bordered by a Martian ocean that played an important role in the landmark striations on the planet’s surface.

Researchers analyzing images of Olympus Mons on Mars, the tallest volcano in the Solar System, say a wrinkled patch of terrain near the mountain’s northern region likely formed when extremely hot lava flowed from the summit millions of years ago. follow.

Lava is believed to have entered the ice and water at the base of the mountain, leading to landslides. At least some of these landslides must have stretched about 1,000 km from the volcano and folded as they strengthened over the eons, scientists say. Space.

Liquid water once flowed on the Red Planet

Although such striated features on Mars have long been studied, however, the role of water in their formation has remained an unanswered question.

The new findings add evidence to the prevailing theory that liquid water once flowed on the Red Planet, which is now a frigid desert world except for remnants of ice stuck mostly to its poles.

The wrinkled patch of land shown in the new images is known as the Lycus Sulci. It was photographed by the European Space Agency’s Mars Express orbiter, which celebrated two decades of orbiting Mars while searching for signs of underground water.

The giant rocks around Olympus Mons

This new information comes on the heels of similar geological evidence regarding the giant rocks surrounding Olympus Mons. Researchers believe that those cliffs, or escarpments as they are called, mark an ancient shoreline within which is a large depression where liquid water once swirled.

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The latest results support this idea, suggesting that the lower part of the mountain collapsed when the ice and water at its base became unstable when meeting the lava inside it.

“This collapse occurred in the form of huge rockfalls and landslides, which spread widely across the surrounding plains,” the researchers wrote.

Lycus Sulci, shown in the new images, stretches 1,000 km from Olympus Mons and stops just short of reaching Yelwa Crater, an 8 km Martian bowl named after a town in Nigeria.

Would the organisms have been able to hibernate in the depths of the ice sheets?

The grooves that mark the lava flows near the Yelwa crater show “how far the destructive landslides traveled on the flanks of the volcano before settling,” the researchers said in the same statement.

Although a tempting possibility, the new results do not conclude whether the Lycus Sulci region was friendly to life on Mars.

On Earth, however, a first-of-its-kind 2019 research study showed that Hawaii’s “lava crickets” are adept at thriving in the torrid, unforgiving heat of lava that follows volcanic eruptions.

While the presence of liquid water in Mars’ past is good news for life in general, scientists believe that any living organisms that might have thrived on a once watery Mars perished with the oceans.

Others suggest that single-celled organisms may have been able to hibernate deep within the planet’s ice sheets.

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