Exploring one of Mars’ giant volcanoes


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For the past two weeks JPL’s image site has been releasing a string of images taken by Mars Odyssey of the smallest of Mars’ four giant volcanoes.

Pavonis Mons is one of the three aligned Tharsis Volcanoes. The four Tharsis volcanoes are Ascreaus Mons, Pavonis Mons, Arsia Mons, and Olympus Mars. All four are shield type volcanoes. Shield volcanoes are formed by lava flows originating near or at the summit, building up layers upon layers of lava. The Hawaiian islands on Earth are shield volcanoes. The three aligned volcanoes are located along a topographic rise in the Tharsis region. Along this trend there are increased tectonic features and additional lava flows. Pavonis Mons is the smallest of the four volcanoes, rising 14km above the mean Mars surface level with a width of 375km. It has a complex summit caldera, with the smallest caldera deeper than the larger caldera. Like most shield volcanoes the surface has a low profile. In the case of Pavonis Mons the average slope is only 4 degrees.

The image on the right is the context image, annotated by me to show where all these images were taken. The images can accessed individually below.

Each of these images has some interesting geological features, such as collapses, lava tubes, faults, and flow features. Meanwhile, the central calderas are remarkable smooth, with only a few craters indicating their relatively young age.

The most fascinating geological fact gleaned from these images is that they reveal a larger geological trend that runs through all of the three aligned giant volcanoes to the east of Olympus Mons.

The linear and sinuous features mark the locations of lava tubes and graben that occur on both sides of the volcano along a regional trend that passes thru Pavonis Mons, Ascreaus Mons (to the north), and Arsia Mons (to the south).

This trend probably also indicates the fundamental geology that caused all three volcanoes to align as they have.

Arsia Mons is of particular interest in that water clouds form periodically above its western slope, where there is also evidence of past glaciation. Scientists strongly suspect that there is a lot of water ice trapped underground here, possibly inside the many lava tubes that meander down its slopes. These facts also suggest that this might be one of the first places humans go to live, when they finally go to live on Mars.

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27 comments

  • ken anthony

    Mars diameter is 6778 km. Highway One could start anywhere with each new landing extend human presence a reasonable number of km from the last. It would not take that long for a railroad to encircle the planet. Allowing both mutual support and access to diverse geography (are we going to need a new world or not?)

  • wayne

    ken-
    I’m definitely liking the Railroad Idea!

  • hondo

    got to ask – it’s never mentioned.
    Why we can cope and over-come most environmental conditions – what about long term effects of low gravity?

  • LocalFluff

    @hondo
    Because our ancestors’ evolution has never dealt with microgravity. Other than during the second or so we can survive a free fall on Earth. And maybe to some degree buoyancy in water.

    Where evolution has done zero work, our minds must fill in the gap. And no wonder many medical people get worried about that! But simply have the thing spinning. 3 years tops for a trip to Mars’ moons and back all in microgravity. That’s the longest microgravity human space mission in any foreseeable future. If rotating the spacecraft could liberate them from several hours a day in a crowded stinking little gym box, I think it would be good for their productivity and spirits. (But if Nike sponsors, maybe we can skip the artificial gravity… Just do it.)

  • wodun

    We don’t know if artificial gravity would solve the problem but building an artificial gravity station would be great, and no reason that it couldn’t travel.

    I have seen some concepts where the rotating part is small and used as a sleeping bay, with hardly any head space. The problem is that bed rest on Earth leads to many of the same problems we are trying to avoid in microgravity.

    I also don’t think someone needs to wait for this to be built, just go if they want. Improvements will happen in transit speed and artificial gravity as time goes on. Settling Mars is a long term effort, a colony wont be plopped down all in one piece. Initial surface prospecting or in orbit telerobotic missions could compromise on microgravity concerns and when it comes time to move large numbers of people, the tools will be there .

  • Dick Eagleson

    ken,

    Charles Stross described a planet-girdling giant railroad on Mercury in Saturn’s Children. The story is a sort of sci-fi Perils of Pauline with a female sexbot protagonist who’s also a smuggler. At one point, she’s, in essence, tied to the tracks of said railroad by the bad guys.

  • Mark

    Artificial gravity on Mars? That’s easy, just build a roller coaster.

    Build a roller coaster track that’s flat, no hills or dips, in a perfect circle. Make the circle at least a few 100 meters in diameter. Tilt the track inward toward the center of the circle. Place a roller coaster train on the track and spin it up until you have sufficient centrifugal and natural Martian gravity to get to 1 g. Using a roller coaster setup with track wheels above and below the track aids in derailment prevention and allows the coaster to remain on the track when stopped.

    As far as adding pseudo gravity to a Mars transfer vehicle… maybe the answer lies with a high school drill team baton. Except the knobs at the ends are identical complete vehicles, with living quarters, environmental controls, Mars landing vehicle and maybe Earth return vehicle. Replace the central metal shaft with (much lighter) multiple wire-braid cables. Carbon fiber cables could work as well. Multiple cables offers redundancy and helps prevent oscillation issues. Spin it up and you’ll have “gravity” for the trip to/from Mars.

  • LocalFluff

    No centrifuge is needed for artificial gravity in weightlessness (the trip to Mars). The colleagues could simply spin the astronaut around in empty air. In order to not just spin only around the own spine, he could hold a counterweight on a stick to control the center of mass. I suppose this allows for having the body spinning around a center point, say, a meter or two away. No need to build any special centrifuge module or something. Just a counterweight the mass of about the astronaut himself. In a similar way and probably better, an astronaut could be spun around with the feet down.

  • Mark

    Tidal forces make that a problem. If the distance between the rotational line and the “floor” or most distant part of the human body are too short you’ll have pressure differentials and other issues.

    Let’s say, you place a mini-space lab is placed into orbit. It is a hollow cylinder with a diameter of 12 foot, spinning so that it’s outer wall is at one gee. And lets say astronaut Bob is standing in the station. Bob is 6 feet tall. His feet will be at or near to one gee, his head will be at or near to zero gee. Blood follows the path of least resistance, so Bob will have blood pool in his feet and lower legs, while his head will very high blood pressure. This would be medically dangerous and uncomfortable for Bob, and this doesn’t even consider the inner ear issues he’d encounter.

    You don’t have these issues if the distance between the rotational line and the “floor” is large enough. A few hundred meters up to maybe a kilometer should be sufficient.

  • ken anthony

    Dick, I’d love to see novels with mars life as the setting. I just wonder if it would just be more rehashed plots or something truly original? After a few decades of living on mars, we’d have some good real life jumping off points.

    Forget ‘ghosts of mars’ type plots. Instead, it would be mar’s version of rags to riches where arriving colonists bring new things that enhance living conditions and change the landscape (not just geographically.) How would robber barons work when every martian arrives a millionaire due to mass allowance?

    I remember reading some story where martians arrived as family cartels and marriage between the cartels was the plot focus.

    The fight for property rights could echo the westward movement in frontier America (where eastern lawyers stole the land of those making it livable forcing them to go farther west and repeat.)

    A railroad could tie it all together.

  • LocalFluff

    @Mark
    If so, then they’ll have to do it in space suits during EVAs About time that we skip the drama about EVAs and introduce the quick and easy suitport. Just dip into the suit, grab a string, swing around the space craft at arbitrary distance and whee you go back to Earth gravity for a while!

    It’s strange that JAXA put many millions into developing a centrifuge for the ISS which according to you is too small to have any chance to do any good. But that it would instead harm the astronauts in it. Maybe that’s why it was never launched but is today a museum.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Centrifuge_Accommodations_Module

    It is interesting that this whole centrifuge category of concept is impossible. Many who advocate artificial gravity do not seem to be informed about that. You have a great communication opportunity there if you want to bite it!

  • wayne

    Ken–
    I definitely believe there is an unfilled niche, for what I would call a blend of “Horatio Alger In Space,” “Wagon Train to the Stars,” and The American Experience.

    going slightly tangential–I would also put forth the proposition, this Tale (as just one example of many) adapted to “Mars,” would be a great story.

    The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky
    Stephen Crane
    http://www.public.wsu.edu/~campbelld/crane/bride.htm

    Referencing Railroad’s in Space; I see no reason why this type of conveyance could not be utilized, we aren’t going to be building interstate highways on Mars, (it’s Mar’s, not Nevada.)

    It’s eventually going to be some type of linear transport, over and/or underground

    Count me in on the Railroad Idea, but I must insist we learn from our past mistakes, and point to this:

    Murray Rothbard:
    “The Railroading of the American People”
    [The American Economy and the End of Laissez-Faire: 1870 to World War II, part 2]
    https://youtu.be/DfANglDac3M
    1:32:38

  • LocalFluff

    For inspiration to a novel about “life” in the volcanoes of Mars, I recommend Paradise Lost by John Milton. One of the founders of parliamentarianism, freedom of speech and capitalism. On the side he also wrote up this book about humans’ origin and destiny in a saga of the Bible. Considered the best piece of literature ever written in English. He even created substantial parts of what is English today, like Shakespeare.

    It is written in the 1660s and is surprisingly rich in astronomy of the time. It is during the age of birth of telescope astronomy and orbital mechanics. How God created Earth and Hell. Mars would be another world like Earth, in this view of the worlds. I find it interesting and as for the quest for life out there, we evidently haven’t gotten anywhere in the last 400 years! Astrobiologists’ hypotheses today are as wild as Milton’s was. It is scary that we still haven’t moved far beyond what the Bible says about this topic. Angels and devils traveling between the worlds.

    Milton said that he wanted unconditional freedom of religion for everyone! Except for catholics, jews, muslims and atheists. So that kind of narrows it down a bit (to protestant infighting). But it was actually an extremely liberal view in England in the 1660s (contemporary with Newton). And step by step since then… He was btw a presbyterian, just like Donald-“I never had a drink”-Trump! The kind of protestants who wants (wanted) to hang the pope. And all the bishops with’em. No wonder the pope “the pope!” had an issue with Trump during his campaign. I’m sure they are best friends now.

  • Edward

    When considering creating artificial gravity by means of a spinning space station or section of a spacecraft, keep in mind that there is a maximum spin rate that people can tolerate without getting dizzy or even ill. Six revolutions per minute (RPM) is considered borderline, and four RPM is better. For one-G, four RPM would need about a 70 meter radius. For an even more comfortable spin rate, Mark’s “few hundred meters up to maybe a kilometer” distance is appropriate. Mark’s example where he spins poor Bob would have him spinning a good 24 RPM, which would pretty quickly have Bob on his knees throwing up. Poor Bob.

    For 1/3-G (Mars) at four RPM, about 25 meter radius (50 meter diameter) would be needed for a ship travelling to Mars. I suspect that if we were to do artificial gravity to and from Mars, we would likely have a much lower gravity, closer to 1/10-G, which is a little more than a SpaceX’s Big Falcon Rocket and Interplanetary Transport System (ITS) could do with their diameter. It is hard to say whether spinning an ITS would be worth the effort.

    I think that it would do us well to study low-G lifestyles and health issues before we commit to living on Mars, but at this point such a study appears unlikely to happen.

    LocalFluff,
    I missed the part where the centrifuge concept is impossible. We have plenty of centrifuges and even ultracentrifuges (really fast centrifuge) here on Earth; where the concept fails in zero-G is unclear to me. You will have take this opportunity to do the communicating to us.

  • Dick Eagleson

    As soon as there are actually people on Mars you’ll see the stories. Pioneering in America fueled a lot of what is now our literary canon. James Fenimore Cooper, Herman Melville, Richard Henry Dana, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Willa Cather, Bret Harte, Mark Twain, Jack London – the list is extensive. The first bestseller by a “Martian” author might well be published within our lifetimes.

  • ken anthony

    Wayne, re: your second link. If martians colonize according to my plan, the govt. would have nothing to do with building a martian railroad.

    Each colonist would get a free ticket which includes a spacesuit and one ton of personal property (which represents great wealth for each colonist) at no cost (all completely paid for by land speculators with all mars land sold by auction to anybody in 2000 sq. meter plots, thus preventing monopoly by any particular entity.)

    Each receiver of a ticket would agree to the principle of absolute property rights. Property could not be forcibly taken from any property holder by any means other than true free trade. So right of way for a railroad might be delayed because some would probably refuse to sell.

    That would be the first test of martian belief in the principle of true absolute property rights. A railroad would make the land around it more valuable. So the railroad corporation may have to buy land around the right of way so that they can offer land, corporate stock and money in exchange for the property they want. What they could not do is eminent domain.

    Considering the wealth creation of the railroad I don’t think free trade and respect of property ownership would be a problem.

  • wayne

    ken-
    interesting stuff!

    I haven’t thought too deeply on the political-economy of Mars, but I’m definitely in on the Railroad Concept.

    Tangentially– part 3 of that Rothbard series is pretty good; it covers the period railroad’s attempted to form cartels.
    It wasn’t however, all corruption, and we could learn from people like:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_J._Hill
    He’s no angel, but maybe the Musk of his time in some ways.

  • ken anthony

    “An honest politician is one who, when he is bought, will stay bought.” Simon Cameron. He made his money in railroads and was part of the Lincoln admin. Any real authors (not me) has a ready made plot for a mars novel. I’d be happy to offer my thoughts to such an author.

  • ken anthony

    I haven’t thought too deeply on the political-economy of Mars

    It’s almost all I think about with respect to colonizing mars. Funding, the key to colonizing mars, is a solved problem. I’ve paid lawyers to verify my concept and I’m trying to write a book to explain it.

    People have no clue, but I’m no writer. I do have an offer of an editor.

    The funds, trillions of dollars, are available by establishing a new bank for the purpose of developing mars. It could happen without delay (today, now, yesterday!!!) If I wasn’t a dying bum in poverty I’d be making it happen.

  • wayne

    ken–
    I’d advocate you go for it, one step at a time.

    While I don’t advocate anarcho-capitalism as such, I do find Rothbard to be highly enlightening, especially on economics & American history.
    Our Western Frontier experience as well, is something we need to learn from, but not repeat some of the fundamental mistakes we made.

    Highly advise anything from Prof Richard Epstein on Property Rights.

    The Bank concept bothers me, I’m largely a free-banker and we can’t get into fractional-reserve type money/credit creation. (as always details are everything)

    anyway… good luck on this!

  • Edward

    ken anthony,
    An interesting concept, but it may be more practical for the land parcel to be 2,500 square meters (50 meters on a side).or be a full hectare. If you allow for spacing between plots, a common land area, rather than abutting all plots next to each other then roadways, railroads, and other utility lines can be placed along those free ways, allowing for access that does not need negotiation between reluctant landowners. These common areas are similar to Earth’s roads and other easements, which seem to work here on Earth.

    Do you see a problem with that concept? Do you envision something better?

  • ken anthony

    I seem to have lost my first reply. I have no objection to 1/4 hectare plots. My 1/5 hectare plots (40×50) would give 432 plots per sq.km. with 16% for utility (not just roads.) Every plot would have a 40 meter frontage.

    Each 10×10 sq.km. would be a township. The railroad would spiral from pole to pole with each arm about 100 km. apart connected by secondary north/south railroads.

    But I’m not married to this.

  • wayne

    Edward/ken–
    I have no spatial concept of what a hectare comprises. (My own house lot is .90 acre.) My dad and grandfather were Land Surveyors, I’m sorta prone to square-miles & the subdivisions thereof.

  • Steve Earle

    This would all be soooooo much easier if someone somewhere would just go ahead and invent true artificial gravity…..

    We seem to have a habit of making Star Trek Tech a reality, why not “Gravity Plating”?

    And if we can now detect gravity waves, how long before gravity detection follows light detection and we have gravity cameras, gravity arc-lights, and ultimately gravity flashlights?

    Oh, if only….. :-)

  • ken anthony

    Wayne, a hectare is about 2.5 acres, so I’m talking about half acre plots for $20 plus.

  • wayne

    ken-
    thank you.

    Professor Richard Epstein
    “Natural Law In Ancient and Modern Guise”
    https://youtu.be/R_ge4tYI8Vk
    1:19:25

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