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Home | Lifestyle | Amy’s Everyday Astronomy: Is Mars Still Volcanically Active?

Amy’s Everyday Astronomy: Is Mars Still Volcanically Active?

Since its discovery, Mars has always been a place of wonder for us Earthlings. From long ago beliefs that the deep canyons seen in telescopes were forged by water, to fear of invasion from little green men.

Mars fires the imagination of sci-fi literature and films, as well as the real science of current and future mission planning. And there’s no limit to the conspiracy theories that circulate about this planet named for the Roman God of War. Whatever the reason, Mars is almost always in the news.

The Red Planet falls within the habitable zone of our sun. And, indeed, many scientists believe Mars once housed oceans and rivers, and maybe even life of some type. But one of the really cool features of Mars is that it is also home to the largest volcano in the solar system, Olympus Mons.

Similar in size to the state of Arizona, Olympus Mons forms a strange triangular shape with three other volcanos in the region: Ascraeus Mons, Pavonis Mons, and Arsia Mons. Known as the Tharsis Volcanos, most of these haven’t been active for 2 million years.

Most recently, however, speculations and theories have run amok that Mars may still be volcanically active. With the recent closure of the solar observatory in New Mexico and even more recent YouTube outage, conspiracists believe that pictures taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter earlier this month show a plume of smoke being emitted by Arsia Mons.

That would bode well for any potential life that might inhabit the planet. If the volcanos were still active, that would mean subsurface water has a decent chance of being warm enough to support life.

Unfortunately, there’s more ice than fire about that plume captured in the photos. According to NASA, “These are ice-rich clouds over the summit of Arsia Mons.”

In reality, Arsia Mons hasn’t erupted in over 10 million years. Dr. Tanya Harrison, a member of NASA’s Opportunity rover team who specializes in Martian geology and weather patterns took to Twitter to dispel the myths.

“It’s not a plume of smoke, but rather water ice clouds condensing out over the summit of the Arsia Mons volcano. We see them quite often over this particular volcano. We see these clouds hang out over the summit of Arsia for weeks at a time during this time of year, every year,” Harrison writes.

In essence, that’s no Mons [eruption], that a stationary [ice cloud].

*

For a daily dose of Everyday Astronomy with Amy, like and follow her Facebook Page; to read previous articles, click here.

About Amy Cooley

A native El Pasoan, Amy Cooley attended Parkland High School before beginning her studies in physics at EPCC. With her love of dark skies increasing, she transferred to New Mexico Tech University where she earned her degree in Astronomy. Moving back to El Paso in 2008, she now wants to share her love of the cosmos with the city she calls home.

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