The majority of Mars‘ volcanism occurred between 3 billion and 4 billion years ago, leaving behind massive monuments such as Olympus Mons, the solar system’s tallest mountain.
Olympus Mons, at 16 miles (25 kilometres) in height, is roughly three times the height of Mount Everest, the world’s highest mountain.
Previous research indicated that the Red Planet may have flared with smaller volcanic eruptions as recently as 2.5 million years ago. Scientists have discovered evidence that Mars is still volcanically active, with evidence of an eruption occurring within the last 50,000 years or so.
“With this being the youngest documented volcanic eruption on Mars, the possibility that Mars is currently volcanically active is exciting,” said study lead author David Horvath, a planetary scientist now at the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Arizona.
Using data from Mars orbiting satellites, researchers examined the relatively featureless equatorial plains of Elysium Planitia. They discovered a previously unknown smooth dark volcanic deposit that was about 8 miles (13 kilometres) wide and covered an area slightly larger than Washington, D.C.
It encircles a 20-mile-wide volcanic fissure, one of the cracks that make up the Cerberus Fossae fissure system.
“When i used to be rummaging through images of this area, I found this volcanic deposit. I’d checked out this area several times before but had always overlooked this feature “Jeff Andrews-Hanna, a planetary scientist at the University of Arizona in Tucson, is that the study’s senior author, according to Space.com. “When I noticed this strange dark deposit centred on a volcanic fissure, I knew it had been telling us something important.”
This deposit, in particular, appeared to be unlike anything else found in the region, or indeed on Mars, according to Andrews-Hanna. Rather, it resembled features formed by older volcanic eruptions on the moon and Mercury.
Mars Volcanic Eruptions
The majority of previous signs of volcanism in Elysium Planitia and elsewhere on Mars consisted of lava flowing across the surface, similar to recent Icelandic eruptions. This newfound eruption, on the other hand, appears to be a relatively new deposit of ash and rock on top of surrounding lava flows.
According to scientists, this volcanic deposit may be the most recent seen on Mars. “If we compressed Mars’ geologic history into a single day, this would have happened in the last second,” Horvath said in a statement.
The researchers discovered that the eruption’s properties, composition, and distribution match what they might expect from a pyroclastic eruption — an explosive outburst of magma driven by expanding gases, similar to the opening of a shaken can of soda. After Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD, deadly avalanches of scalding ash, toxic gas, and pulverised rock from pyroclastic eruptions, known as pyroclastic flows, engulfed the ancient Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum.
“This eruption could have thrown ash up to 10 kilometres (6 miles) into the Martian atmosphere,” Horvath said in a statement.
Although there have been numerous instances of explosive volcanism on Mars, they occurred a long time ago. Such pyroclastic deposits may have been more common in the past, but most have eroded or been buried, according to Horvath.
The newly discovered volcanic deposit is approximately 1,000 miles (1,600 km) from NASA’s InSight lander, which has been studying tectonic activity on Mars since 2018. InSight detected two Marsquakes in the region, both of which originated near Cerberus Fossae.
“We now know that this region is that the most volcanically and seismically active area on the earth immediately ,” Andrews-Hanna said.