Giant Mars volcano may have harbored life, scientists say

By Park Sae-jin Posted : June 11, 2014, 09:11 Updated : June 11, 2014, 09:11
In a major breakthrough, geologists have discovered a giant volcano - once covered in glacial ice and nearly twice as tall as Mt. Everest - on Mars that may have harbored life.

One of the largest mountains in the solar system, Arsia Mons is the third tallest volcano on Mars and may be home to one of the most recent habitable environments yet found on the Red Planet.

"If signs of past life are ever found at older sites, then Arsia Mons would be the next place I would want to go," Kat Scanlon, a graduate student at Rhode Island-based Brown University said.

Using data from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, Scanlon found pillow lava formations, similar to those that form on earth when lava erupts at the bottom of an ocean.

She also found the kinds of ridges and mounds that form on earth when a lava flow is constrained by glacial ice.

This new analysis of the landforms surrounding Arsia Mons shows that eruptions along the volcano's northwest flank happened at the same time that a glacier covered the region around 210 million years ago.

The heat from those eruptions would have melted massive amounts of ice to form englacial lakes - bodies of water that form within glaciers like liquid bubbles in a half-frozen ice cube.

"The ice-covered lakes of Arsia Mons would have held hundreds of cubic kilometers of meltwater," Scanlon said.

By Ruchi Singh
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