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Bursting lava bubbles on Mars

Burst lava bubbles on Mars
Click for full image.

Cool image time! The photo to the right, rotated, cropped, reduced, and sharpened to post here, was taken on September 4, 2022 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO).

I really have no idea what caused these distorted cones. My intuition (a dangerous thing to rely on when it comes to science) suggests these are volcanic in nature. Imagine hot lava with gas bubbling up from below. Periodically a gas bubble will burst on the surface releasing the gas. Depending on temperature, that bursting bubble could harden in place.

The overview map below provides some support for my intuition, but it also suggests this first hypothesis could be completely wrong, something that does not surprise me in the least.

Overview map

The white dot to the east of 185-mile-wide Newton Crater marks the location of these distorted cones. They are located on the southwest edge of the Tharsis Bulge, the high elevation plateau where most of the red planet’s largest volcanoes sit. Thus, this region has likely seen volcanic activity.

The location however is also at 42 degrees south latitude in the southern cratered highlands, inside the Martian mid-latitude bands where evidence of many glaciers and near surface ice is found. In fact, I have posted three different cool images (here, here, and here) of glacial features inside Newton Crater.

The light blue color inside some of the cones in the color strip also suggests the presence of ice. In addition, the cracks and eroded surface in the flats suggests sublimation and the drying out of ice.

Thus, these cones might not have formed from lava at all, and instead could be some form of water/ice volcano. The ice below ground sublimates to gas, and that gas bursts upward like the bubbles in simmering tomato sauce, bursting on the surface to form the cones.

Or not. Maybe we are looking at a geological process totally unique to Mars, involving a mix of lava, water, ice, and even dry ice.

Ain’t solving geological mysteries fun, especially when you are a hundred million miles away from the rocks?

Conscious Choice cover

Now available in hardback and paperback as well as ebook!


From the press release: In this ground-breaking new history of early America, historian Robert Zimmerman not only exposes the lie behind The New York Times 1619 Project that falsely claims slavery is central to the history of the United States, he also provides profound lessons about the nature of human societies, lessons important for Americans today as well as for all future settlers on Mars and elsewhere in space.

Conscious Choice: The origins of slavery in America and why it matters today and for our future in outer space, is a riveting page-turning story that documents how slavery slowly became pervasive in the southern British colonies of North America, colonies founded by a people and culture that not only did not allow slavery but in every way were hostile to the practice.  
Conscious Choice does more however. In telling the tragic history of the Virginia colony and the rise of slavery there, Zimmerman lays out the proper path for creating healthy societies in places like the Moon and Mars.


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  • Greg the Geologist

    You note the cracks (desiccation cracks? expansion cracks?) which may be a clue. Note also the apparent collapse features (appear to be subdued craters, but maybe not?) nearby. All likely relating to the same set of causes or conditions. Hoping for stereo imagery in the near future, giving us a 3D perspective.

  • My intuition says giant sand worms.

  • Jeff Wright

    Perfect for inflates-the rim keeps it seated.

  • Hypothesis: The cones were caused by bubbling magma, as Robert surmised, while the cracks are subsidence cracks formed as the surface material slumped into the space below. The terrain in the area is pockmarked, but the immediate area around the cones is relatively clear. Perhaps ejecta falling to the ground, but thrown up with enough force to fall a little distance away.

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