A habitable environment on Martian volcano?
The Martian volcano Arsia Mons may have been home to the most recent habitable environment yet found on the Red Planet, geologists say. The research shows that volcanic eruptions beneath glacial ice would have created substantial amounts of liquid water on Mars's surface around 210 million years ago. Where there was water, there is the possibility of past life.
Heat from a volcano erupting beneath an immense glacier would have created large lakes of liquid water on Mars in the relatively recent past. And where there's water, there is also the possibility of life. A recent paper by Brown University researchers calculates how much water may have been present near the Arsia Mons volcano and how long it may have remained.
Nearly twice as tall as Mount Everest, Arsia Mons is the third tallest volcano on Mars and one of the largest mountains in the solar system. 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, according to calculations by Kat Scanlon, a graduate student at Brown who led the work. And where there's water, there's the possibility of a habitable environment.
"This is interesting because it's a way to get a lot of liquid water very recently on Mars," Scanlon said. While 210 million years ago might not sound terribly recent, the Arsia Mons site is much younger than the habitable environments turned up by Curiosity and other Mars rovers.
Those sites are all likely older than 2.5 billion years. The fact that the Arsia Mons site is relatively young makes it an interesting target for possible future exploration. "If signs of past life are ever found at those older sites, then Arsia Mons would be the next place I would want to go," Scanlon said.