Volcanoes erupted beneath an ice sheet on Mars billions of years ago, far from any ice sheet on the Red Planet today, new evidence from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter suggests.
The research about these volcanoes helps show there was extensive ice on ancient Mars. It also adds information about an environment combining heat and moisture, which could have provided favorable conditions for microbial life.
Sheridan Ackiss of Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana, and collaborators used the orbiter’s mineral-mapping spectrometer to investigate surface composition in an oddly textured region of southern Mars called “Sisyphi Montes.” The region is studded with flat-topped mountains. Other researchers previously noted these domes’ similarity in shape to volcanoes on Earth that erupted underneath ice. [The new results were presented (PDF) in March 2016 at the 47th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in The Woodlands, Texas.]
“Rocks tell stories. Studying the rocks can show how the volcano formed or how it was changed over time,” Ackiss said. “I wanted to learn what story the rocks on these volcanoes were telling.” [More at links]