Mars crater may actually be ancient supervolcano, study says

October 2, 2013, NASA

Seen above, for the basin and surrounding area, higher elevations (reds and yellows) and lower elevations (blues and grays) are indicated. Credit: NASA/JPL/GSFC
( —A research project led by Joseph R. Michalski, Senior Scientist at the Planetary Science Institute, has identified what could be a supervolcano on Mars – the first discovery of its kind.

In a paper published Oct. 3 in the journal Nature, Michalski and co-author Jacob E. Bleacher of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center describe a new type of volcanic construction on Mars that until now has gone unrecognized.

The in question, a vast circular basin on the face of the Red Planet, previously had been classified as an . Researchers now suggest the basin is actually the remains of an ancient eruption. Their assessment is based on images and topographic data from NASA's Mars Odyssey, Mars Global Surveyor and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft, as well as the European Space Agency's Mars Express orbiter.

In the Nature paper Michalski and Bleacher lay out their case that the basin, recently named Eden Patera, is a volcanic caldera. Because a caldera is a depression, it can look like a crater formed by an impact, rather than a volcano.

"On Mars, young volcanoes have a very distinctive appearance that allows us to identify them," Michalski said. "The long-standing question has been what ancient volcanoes on Mars look like. Perhaps they look like this one."

Above, the dark color indicates younger material draped across the Eden Patera depression. Credit: ESA

The researchers also suggest a large body of magma loaded with dissolved gas (similar to the carbonation in soda) rose through thin crust to the surface quickly. Like a bottle of soda that has been shaken, this supervolcano would have blown its contents far and wide if the top came off suddenly.

"This highly explosive type of eruption is a game-changer, spewing many times more ash and other material than typical, younger Martian volcanoes," Bleacher said. "During these types of eruptions on Earth, the debris may spread so far through the atmosphere and remain so long that it alters the global temperature for years."

After the material is expelled from the eruption, the depression that is left can collapse even further, causing the ground around it to sink. Eruptions like these happened in ages past at what is now Yellowstone National Park in the western United States, Lake Toba in Indonesia and Lake Taupo in New Zealand.

Volcanoes previously had not been identified in the Arabia Terra region of Mars, where Eden Patera is located. The battered, heavily eroded terrain is known for its impact craters. But as Michalski examined this particular basin more closely, he noticed it lacked the typical raised rim of an impact crater. He also could not find a nearby blanket of ejecta, the melted rock that splashes outside the crater when an object hits.

The absence of such key features caused Michalski to suspect volcanic activity. He contacted Bleacher, a volcano specialist, who identified features at Eden Patera that usually indicate volcanism, such as a series of rock ledges that looked like the "bathtub rings" left after a lava lake slowly drains. In addition, the outside of the is ringed by the kinds of faults and valleys that occur when the ground collapses because of activity below the surface. The existence of these and other volcanic features in one place convinced the scientists Eden Patera should be reclassified.

The team found a few more basins that are candidate volcanoes nearby, suggesting conditions in Arabia Terra might have been favorable for supervolcanoes. It is also possible massive eruptions here could have been responsible for volcanic deposits elsewhere on Mars that have never been linked to a known volcano.

"If just a handful of volcanoes like these were once active, they could have had a major impact on the evolution of Mars," Bleacher said.

Explore further: Study: Martian crater may once have held groundwater-fed lake

More information: … ull/nature12482.html

Related Stories

A radiating beauty on Mars

September 6, 2013

( —Exceptional structures deposited and shaped by water and winds adorn these interlocking craters and sculpt radiating patterns in the sands of Mars.

Neighboring volcanoes on Mars

April 4, 2011

( -- ESA’s Mars Express has returned images of mist-capped volcanoes located in the northern hemisphere of the red planet. Long after volcanic activity ceased, the area was transformed by meteor impacts that ...

Mars's mysterious elongated crater

August 27, 2010

( -- Orcus Patera is an enigmatic elliptical depression near Mars's equator, in the eastern hemisphere of the planet. Located between the volcanoes of Elysium Mons and Olympus Mons, its formation remains a mystery.

Mars Express sees deep fractures on Mars

May 6, 2011

Newly released images from ESA's Mars Express show Nili Fossae, a system of deep fractures around the giant Isidis impact basin. Some of these incisions into the martian crust are up to 500 m deep and probably formed at the ...

Recommended for you

Paleontologists report world's biggest Tyrannosaurus rex

March 22, 2019

University of Alberta paleontologists have just reported the world's biggest Tyrannosaurus rex and the largest dinosaur skeleton ever found in Canada. The 13-metre-long T. rex, nicknamed "Scotty," lived in prehistoric Saskatchewan ...

NASA instruments image fireball over Bering Sea

March 22, 2019

On Dec. 18, 2018, a large "fireball—the term used for exceptionally bright meteors that are visible over a wide area—exploded about 16 miles (26 kilometers) above the Bering Sea. The explosion unleashed an estimated 173 ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

2.4 / 5 (10) Oct 02, 2013
" He also could not find a nearby blanket of ejecta, the melted rock that splashes outside the crater when an object hits."

Ejecta is not necessarily molten.
1.3 / 5 (14) Oct 02, 2013
It is also possible massive eruptions here could have been responsible for volcanic deposits elsewhere on Mars that have never been linked to a known volcano.

Alrighty then...
5 / 5 (4) Oct 03, 2013
Alrighty then...

You know that old saying about remaining silent so that people might think you are stupid, versus opening your mouth and proving it?
1 / 5 (12) Oct 03, 2013
Yup, maybe good advice for these scientists as well, being their claimed "evidence" is barely even circumstantial.

If evidence trumped belief here, the acceptance for the EU POV would be undeniable. The evidence screams electric discharge, a mechanism that can explain all of the geological features not only on Mars, but all of the rocky/"icy" bodies we observe.
2.1 / 5 (7) Oct 03, 2013
I was at first puzzled why my perfectly true statement was given a 2, but then I found one of my raters is cantdrive85, who can't think his way out of a wet paper bag. But that means Sinister181 gave me a 3 at most, and I'm curious to know why.
1 / 5 (8) Oct 03, 2013
Why don't you ask him in a PM? Quit whining.
1 / 5 (2) Oct 04, 2013
But that means Sinister181 gave me a 3 at most, and I'm curious to know why

I wouldn't worry about ratings; they don't mean anything really.

You are correct that impact ejecta ranges from solid to plasma in phase, so your comment didn't have anything wrong with it. That's not really important in terms of the above story though, so it's kinda nit-picky. Maybe that's why he only gave you half creds?

The point is that there should be an ejection curtain, but there isn't, so it probably isn't an impact. I think the biggest sign is the lack of a raised rim though.

It only stands to reason that Mars should have these, so I'm surprised we haven't spotted any before this. Olympus mons is kinda obvious evidence that Mars was active at some time.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.