The highest volcanic peak in the solar system may have been surrounded by water in the past
New discoveries indicate that Mount Olympus, the tallest volcano in our solar system, was once surrounded by a Martian ocean.
The latter played a crucial role in the formation of the characteristic tracks on the surface of the planet.
Scientists who examined images from Olympus Mons say a rugged area near the northern region of the mountain likely formed millions of years ago when boiling lava flowed from the volcano’s summit.
It is believed that this lava contacted the ice and water at the base of the mountain, causing landslides.
It is possible that some of these landslides, over the ages, have extended about 1,000 kilometers from the volcano, forming roughness as it hardens.
Although the striped features on Mars have long been studied, the role of water in their formation has remained an open question.
These new findings bolster the prevailing theory that liquid water flows freely on the Red Planet, which is now a desolate, frozen world except for the remnants of ice trapped at the poles.
The rugged terrain shown in the new images is known as Lycus Sulci, a Latin geological term meaning parallel canyons.
This region was imaged in January this year by the European Space Agency’s Mars Express probe, which celebrated two decades of searching Mars for signs of groundwater.
These new discoveries follow similar geological evidence found in July, including massive cliffs surrounding Olympus Mons.
Scientists believe that these cliffs, or cliffs, represent an ancient coastline within which was a large depression in which liquid water once circulated.
The latest findings support this idea, indicating that the lower part of the mountain collapsed when the ice and water at its base became unstable in contact with lava escaping from within.
Lycus Sulci, seen in the new images, stretches for 1,000 kilometers from Olympus Mons and stops just before it reaches Yelwa Crater, an 8-kilometer-long Martian basin named after a city in Nigeria.
The scientists said the grooves that characterize lava flows near Yalova crater show “how far destructive landslides travel from the sides of the volcano before settling.”
Despite the suggestive possibilities, the new findings do not confirm whether the Lycus sulsi region is suitable for life on Mars. However, back on Earth, a 2019 research study showed that “lava crickets” in Hawaii are able to thrive in the scorching, unforgiving lava heat that follows volcanic eruptions.
While the presence of liquid water in Mars’ past is a good sign for life in general, scientists believe that any organisms that could have thrived on Mars that was once watery would have perished along with the oceans. Some suggest that single-celled organisms may have hibernated deep within the planet’s ice sheets, although their current existence remains uncertain.
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