Mars "Lava Flows" Mystery Solved by Scientists

Katie Ramirez
May 19, 2020

In order to test this hypothesis, an worldwide team of researchers simulated Mars-like conditions using the Mars Chamber at the Open University in the UK. And this could have led to sedimentary volcanism, where pieces of rock and water explode like mud.

Wilson continued "This is of interest because we see many flow-like features on Mars in spacecraft images, but they have not yet been visited by any of the roving vehicles on the surface and there is some ambiguity about whether they are flows of lava or mud".

Water that flowed over the floor of Mars billions of years in the past transported massive portions of sediments to the northern lowlands, the place they had been later coated by youthful sediments and volcanic rocks.

The scientists performed experiments at low pressure and at extremely cold temperatures (-20°C) to recreate the Martian environment. Although still influenced by Earth's gravity, rather than Mars, they are the closest researchers who can get to experiment on Mars.

Image copyright P.Brož et al 2019 Image caption A suggested mud flow on Mars spied from orbit. This is similar to what happens with the volcanoes on Earth. And the research has important implications for other kinds of volcanism in the Solar System, such as the ice volcanoes thought to exist on far objects such as Titan and Pluto.

"Our experiments show that even a process as apparently simple as the flow of mud - something that many of us have experienced for ourselves since we were children - would be very different on Mars", Broz provides. This observation could support the assumption that numerous conical hills with central craters discovered in the north of Mars are also mud volcanoes. There, they recreated the surface temperature and atmospheric pressure on Mars as part of a simulation of conditions on both Earth and Mars.

Pahoehoe lava in the Galapagos
Pahoehoe lava in the Galapagos

It all comes down to how the low pressure - 150 times less than the pressure of Earth's atmosphere - makes water rapidly evaporate, boil and ultimately freeze. This difference has a major impact. Researchers determined that the lava-like formations often occurred when liquid mud was ejected from the frozen crust and later refroze.

In a section transition, resembling throughout a freezing or thawing course of, latent warmth is launched or absorbed by a cloth with out altering its temperature.

The phenomena are well known here on Earth, but he'd actually spent several years trying to disprove an interpretation that large numbers of conical forms on the Red Planet might also be the same thing. The team demonstrates the mud experiments in the video below. Instead, experimental mudflows propagate like pahoehoe terrestrial lava flows, with liquid mud spilling out by breaks in the frozen crust and then refreezing to form a new flow lobe.

"You'll look at some features [from space] and you won't know for sure whether they are the result of lava flows or mudflows", the study's lead author Petr Broz explained. When mud escapes onto the Martian surface, it is able to flow for some time before it solidifies due to the low temperatures.

"Mud volcanism can explain the formation of some lava-like flow morphologies on Mars", Brož said, adding, "similar processes may apply to eruptions of mud on icy bodies in the outer Solar System, like on Ceres".

Martian mud flows were seen to behave a bit like boiling toothpaste in experiments, and the fluid even began to bounce under certain conditions.

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