Massive volcanoes spewed enormous deposits of ash, sulfur and boiling-hot balls of rock across the atmosphere on Mars some 3.7 billion years ago and transformed the red planet’s landscape, scientists suggested.
Using data from spacecraft orbiting Mars, scientists have studied a huge crater that they theorize is the evidence of a super volcano that would have drastically altered the climate on Mars by sending large amounts of ash and gas into the atmosphere. There are similar types of craters on Earth in places such as Yellowstone National Park, Lake Toba in North Sumatra, Indonesia, and the Canary Islands off the west coast of North Africa.
The super volcano suggests that unlike the cold, barren Martian landscape we know today, in the distant past the planet was a literal hotbed of volcanic activity.
“Vulcanism is a thread which is woven through every aspect of Martian geology,” Joseph Michalski, a planetary geologist at the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson told the Los Angeles Times. “So this is clearly important for understanding the heat flow [and] origins of the atmosphere because the atmosphere is formed through outgassing of volcanoes.”
The crater was found in Mars' Arabia Terra region, an area pitted with impact craters from meteorites. Scientists, however, noticed that the volcano crater looked different from its neighbors' as it lacked the typical raised rim and splash marks that accompany asteroid collisions.
The 52-mile wide crater instead has a series of rock ledges similar to bathtub rings in its one-mile deep basin, which is associated with lava flow.
Scientists also believe that this one volcano created a catastrophic effect on the red planet and completely changed how it functioned.
“This highly explosive type of eruption is a game-changer, spewing many times more ash and other material than typical, younger Martian volcanoes,” said Dr Jacob Bleacher, a volcano specialist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, according to the Telegraph. “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.”
On Earth, the last known eruption occurred some 74,000 years ago when a super volcano in Lake Toba in Indonesia blew its top, spewing out 672 cubic miles of debris. The La Garita Caldera in Colorado is believed to have shot out around 1,200 cubic miles of rock and ash when it exploded more than 27 million years ago.