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Cones on Mars!

Today’s cool image is actually a bunch, all found recently in the monthly image download from the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO).

All the photos I post below show pimple-like cones, all of which appear to be a type of small volcano. The cones are found in a wide range of locations, from the northern lowland plains to the cratered highlands to the mid-latitude transition zone between the two. They are also found at the bottom of deep canyons, in the floors of craters, and amidst mountains.

Let us begin.

Cones in the Phlegra mountains
Click for full image.

First we have a field of small cones located southeast of the Phlegra mountains on the edge of the northern lowland plains. The photo to the right, cropped to post here, was taken on September 12, 2020.

The full image shows many more cones, all about the same size and height, and all scattered on a plain that resembles to my eye a slowly sublimating snow/ice field. The latitude is 30 degrees north, so this is on the southern edge of the northern mid-latitude band where much evidence of glacial ice is found. It is also about 400+ miles southwest of the prime candidate landing site for SpaceX’s Starship, where research has suggested there is a lot of ice available very close to the surface.

All this data suggests that these cones are mud volcanoes, with their magma made up of ice mixed with debris.

Cones in the Tartarus mountains
Click for full image.

The next image to the right, cropped to post here, was taken on September 6, 2020. It shows a more tightly group of similar cones located in the knobby Tartarus Mountains, about 200+ miles to the southwest of the first image above.

Unlike the first image, the ground here appears more solid and smooth, which makes sense because these mountains are in Elysium Planitia, the large transition zone located between the giant volcanoes Elysium and Olympus Mons. Much of the flat terrain here is thought to be lava flood plains, if not from these giant volcanoes then from the many additional smaller eruptions that surrounded them.

While the first image might be showing us mud volcanoes, with the lava being made of ice and mud, the second image is likely showing us lava volcanoes, with the ejected material hot magma. Why the lava eruptions here manifested themselves like mud volcanoes, with many small volcanoes rather than one large one, as usually happens with lava volcanoes on Earth, has probably something to do with Mars’ alien geology and gravity. That however is a pure guess.

Cones on the floor of a crater in the cratered southern highlands
Click for full image.

Third we have the photo to the right, cropped and reduced to post here. Taken on September 6, 2020, it shows a bunch of cones on the floor of an unnamed deep 25-mile-wide crater in the southern cratered highlands at about 27 degrees south latitude. This location is slightly outside the 30-60 degree mid-latitude bands where scientists find many glacial features inside craters. Yet, the features on this crater floor at first glance seem to resemble the mud craters in the first image, with the surrounding terrain appearing to be sublimating away in the same manner.

Overall, these cones however are much larger. Also, if you look at the full image you will see that the surrounding flat plains appear much more solid and smooth where there is less erosion. The great contrast between the areas that have eroded and those that have not suggests this flat terrain is more solid than ground that is ice-filled. It appears more like a magma lava plain that has hardened a long time ago and has since begun to get worn away through the ensuing eons.

Thus, these cones are likely lava volcanoes, though there is a lot of uncertainty with that conclusion, based as it is merely on these images and no other data.

Volcano cone in Valles Marineris
Click for full image.

Finally our fourth cone image, this time of a single large cone found on the floor of the giant canyon Valles Marineris, in a section of that canyon dubbed Coprates Chasma. The photo was taken on September 7, 2020, and has been cropped and reduced to post here.

Of all the images, this cone most resembles what an Earthling expects a volcano to look like. It is also the largest cone of all the cones shown in these images. The stair-stepped terraces on its eastern flank suggest repeated individual eruptions and lava flows over time. A 2017 study found about 130 such volcanic cones in this part of Valles Marineris, and based on their morphology and locations concluded that they were almost certainly lava volcanoes, not mud volcanoes. The data also suggested that they were relatively young, 200 to 400 million years old.

What all these cones suggest is that some type of volcanic activity, whether it be mud/water or lava, was or has been widespread on Mars. While there is no evidence of recent lava volcanic activity on Mars for several million years, mud volcanoes might be more recent, and might even be possible today, though no evidence of this has so far been found, as far as I know.


Conscious Choice cover

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“Zimmerman’s ground-breaking history provides every future generation the basic framework for establishing new societies on other worlds. We would be wise to heed what he says.” —Robert Zubrin, founder of founder of the Mars Society.


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  • eddie willers

    Looks to me like they worshiped Bozo the Clown.

  • Jeff P

    eddie – I think you are right! hahaha now I can’t “un-see” this…

    I’m wondering if any of these fields of cones could have been formed with a mixture of lava and escaping gasses, pushing up through a thin crust. Wouldn’t take much to imagine a pot of water just beginning to boil.

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