Mars hills hide icy past

February 19, 2015, European Space Agency
Phlegra Montes southern tip. Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

A complex network of isolated hills, ridges and small basins spanning 1400 km on Mars is thought to hide large quantities of water-ice.

Phlegra Montes stretches from the Elysium at about 30ºN and deep into the northern lowlands at about 50°N, and is a product of ancient tectonic forces. Its age is estimated to be 3.65–3.91 billion years.

ESA's Mars Express imaged the portion of Phlegra Montes seen here on 8 October 2014. It captures the southernmost tip of the range centred on 31ºN / 160ºE.

Based on radar data from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter combined with studies of the region's geology from other orbiters, scientists believe that extensive glaciers covered this region several hundred million years ago.

And it is thought that ice is still there today, perhaps only 20 m below the surface.

The tilt of the planet's polar axis is believed to have varied considerably over time, leading to significantly changing climatic conditions. This allowed the development of glaciers at what are today the mid-latitudes of Mars.

Features visible in the Phlegra Montes mountain range providing strong evidence for glacial activity include aprons of rocky debris surrounding many of the hills. Similar features are seen in glacial regions on Earth, where material has gradually slumped downhill through the presence of subsurface ice.

Phlegra Montes in context. Credit: NASA MGS MOLA Science Team

Additional features in the region include small valleys cutting through the hills and appearing to flow into regions of lower elevation, in particular towards the centre of the image.

The hummocky terrain provides a distinct contrast to the smooth plains that dominate the upper portion of this image. The material here is thought to be volcanic in origin, perhaps originating from the Hecates Tholus volcano in Elysium some 450 km to the west, some time after the formation of Phlegra Montes.

Phlegra Montes southern tip topography. Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

Upon closer inspection, 'wrinkle ridges' can be seen in the lava plain. These features arise from the cooling and contraction of lava owing to compressive tectonic forces following its eruption onto the surface.

This region of Phlegra Montes and its local surrounds illustrate some of the key geological processes that have worked to shape the Red Planet over time, from ancient , to glaciation and volcanic activity.

Perspective view of Phlegra Montes. Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO
Phlegra Montes southern tip in 3D. Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

Explore further: Mountains and buried ice on Mars

Related Stories

Mountains and buried ice on Mars

December 5, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- New images from Mars Express show the Phlegra Montes mountain range, in a region where radar probing indicates large volumes of water ice are hiding below. This could be a source of water for future astronauts.

Lava floods the ancient plains of Mars

March 7, 2014

Two distinct volcanic eruptions have flooded this area of Daedalia Planum with lava, flowing around an elevated fragment of ancient terrain.

Frost-covered chaos on Mars

November 27, 2014

Thanks to a break in the dusty 'weather' over the giant Hellas Basin at the beginning of this year, ESA's Mars Express was able to look down into the seven kilometre-deep basin and onto the frosty surface of Hellas Chaos.

Nereidum Montes helps unlock Mars' glacial past

November 1, 2012

(Phys.org)—On 6 June, the high-resolution stereo camera on ESA's Mars Express revisited the Argyre basin as featured in our October release, but this time aiming at Nereidum Montes, some 380 km northeast of Hooke crater.

Forces of martian nature

July 11, 2014

The surface of Mars is pocked and scarred with giant impact craters and rocky ridges, as shown in this new image from ESA's Mars Express that borders the giant Hellas basin in the planet's southern hemisphere.The Hellas basin, ...

Mars deep down

August 19, 2014

Scarring the southern highlands of Mars is one of the Solar System's largest impact basins: Hellas, with a diameter of 2300 km and a depth of over 7 km.

Recommended for you

Comprehensive model captures entire life cycle of solar flares

January 15, 2019

A team of scientists has, for the first time, used a single, cohesive computer model to simulate the entire life cycle of a solar flare: from the buildup of energy thousands of kilometers below the solar surface, to the emergence ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Shootist
5 / 5 (1) Feb 19, 2015
Phlegra Montes, tectonics? Really? Looks for all the world like Utopia basin's eastern rim.

http://www.google.com/mars/

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.