CullmanTimes.com - Cullman, Alabama

Education

October 7, 2013

Scientists find evidence of Martian supervolcanoes

We've known for a long time that Mars has volcanoes; after all, Olympus Mons on the Martian Tharsis shield is the largest volcano in the solar system.

But there may have been a more powerful menace lurking just below the red planet's surface eons ago. A paper published last week in Nature (though the authors first reported about it in March at 44th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference) claims to have found evidence of supervolcanoes on Mars.

On Earth, a supervolcano is far larger than a regular volcano; they have huge chambers of magma that can be dozens of kilometers across (like under Yellowstone). They build slowly over hundreds of thousands of years, and erupt catastrophically, and can change the landscape and climate of nearly the entire planet.

In the northern hemisphere of Mars is a series of craters that have been thought to be from impacts. Mars is littered with impact craters, since it has little atmosphere and no running water to erode away ancient features. But the craters in question, most notably Eden Patera (85 by 55 kilometers in size, or 53 by 34 miles), are a bit odd. The entire area is actually lower than average, literally sunken, which is consistent with a supervolcano; once the magma under the surface erupts out, the ground around it collapses to fill the empty space.

Other features make it suspiciously un-impact-like. The crater isn't round, it has no rim, no ejecta (material blasted out from impact), and no central peak (which are common in large craters, like Tycho on the Moon). There are substantial flows of lava around the area, and more evidence of ancient volcanism. Also, benches, or flattened rings around the inside of the crater, are present, and these are common in volcanoes as lava lakes subside.

If Eden Patera (and several other craters seen in the Arabia Terra region of Mars) are in fact supervolcanoes, this changes how we see ancient Mars. Olympus Mons, for example, probably built itself up over eons with big eruptions, but not catastrophic enough that it blew itself apart. That's why it grew to such enormous size; 600 kilometers (370 miles) wide and 22 kilometers (14 miles) tall- Mars also lacks plate tectonics, so a single volcano can just sit in one spot and grow ever larger.

But supervolcanoes explode. Gas dissolved in the magma is pressurized underground, but once it hits the surface it expands violently, creating a massive explosion. This would have distributed volcanic output like ash for thousands of kilometers across the planet. In fact, fine-grained volcanic deposits have been found across the equatorial regions of Mars that are most likely from volcanoes, but no source volcano has ever been found. Moreover, the deposits are layered, which is expected as well from episodic supervolcano explosions. Similar features are seen on Earth.

It's not certain that these craters are in fact supervolcanoes, but it would explain a lot. As we investigate more of Mars we're sure to find features that were previously unknown, and our view of the red planet will no doubt continually evolve. Perhaps we'll find evidence to support this idea of supervolcanoes; perhaps we'll find contradictory data. Either way, the only way we'll know is to keep exploring, keep looking around, and keep learning.

          

1
Text Only
Education
  • WSCC patient care specialist BOOST program offers certification as Patient Care Specialist in one year

    Starting this fall, Wallace State Community College will offer a new health program aimed at helping individuals who are looking for entry into the medical field, or to change gears after spending time out of the workforce, whether from losing their jobs due to the economy, downsizing or other factors.

    July 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • WSCC HILL.jpg Hill hits the ground running at Wallace State

    Marcie Hill of Double Springs likes taking on new challenges. As an 18-year veteran of the education system, Hill has taught first grade, sixth grade and served as a reading coach to students and teachers in Kindergarten through sixth grade.

    July 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • Barnes enjoy Samford's governor's school.jpg Area residents enjoy Samford’s Alabama Governor’s School

    Students from two area high schools were chosen to attend Alabama Governor’s School at Samford University June 15-27. They were among 91 outstanding rising high school seniors from 24 counties who were selected for the two-week honors program.
     

    July 10, 2014 1 Photo

  • University of Memphis Reduces Tuition for Out-of-State Students

    The Tennessee Board of Regents has approved a proposal that will significantly reduce the amount of tuition that out-of-state students pay to attend the University of Memphis.


    Under the new 250-R program, full-time undergraduates who graduated from a high school within 250 miles of Memphis will now pay $12,456 a year, an almost $10,000 reduction from last year’s amount of $21,768.

    June 20, 2014

  • WSCC students SkillsUSA comp 1.jpg Four Wallace State students set to compete this month at the 50th annual SkillsUSA National Leadership and Skills Conference

    Wallace State’s Technical Division has made it an annual tradition to send multiple students to the SkillsUSA national competition. This year is no different.

    June 11, 2014 3 Photos

  • Dickerson chosen Boys State.jpg Dickerson chosen to attend Boys State

    Davis Dickerson, a student at Good Hope High School, son of Bruce and Jennifer Dickerson, received the American Legion Boys’ State award for 2014 from American Legion Post 4 Adjutant Don Reid.

    June 3, 2014 1 Photo

  • Southern Am. Legion Girls State.jpg Southern chosen for Girls State

    Miranda Southern, a student at Good Hope High School, daughter of Douglas Southern, received the American Legion Auxiliary 2014 Girls’ State award of $200 from American Legion Auxiliary Unit 4 Secretary-Treasurer Mary Reid.

    June 3, 2014 1 Photo

  • Cullman students earn Martin Methodist College honors

    Two residents of Cullman County received academic honors during the spring semester at Martin Methodist College in Pulaski, Tenn.
    Brandie Overton and Darcie Wilson, both of Cullman, were named to the Dean’s List with a semester grade point average of 3.5 to 3.9.

    May 30, 2014

  • Crisologo earns degree.jpg Crisologo earns D.P.M. degree from Des Moines University

    Des Moines University granted 539 degrees at its 2014 Commencement Ceremony, the 114th in the university's history, on Saturday, May 24, at 10 a.m. at Hy-Vee Hall in the Iowa Events Center in Des Moines. The dean from each of the three DMU colleges presented their classes and DMU President Angela L. Walker Franklin, Ph.D., conferred degrees.

    May 29, 2014 1 Photo

  • Moon graduates from Southeastern Bible College

    John Clint Moon of Empire was awarded an associate of arts degree in leadership ministries from Southeastern Bible College Friday, May 9, 2014.

    May 29, 2014