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Lava flooded mountains on Mars

Lava-flooded mountains on Mars
Click for full image.

Overview map

Today’s cool image to the right, rotated, cropped, and reduced to post here, was taken in January 2012 by the context camera of Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). The location is a small section of the Tartarus mountain range that is cut by the Cerberus Fossae fissures, all located in Elysium Planitia, the large volcanic lava plain that lies between Mars’ big volcanoes. The white cross on the overview map below marks the location of the photo.

I picked this photo because it quickly shows us in one picture many of the typical features one finds in that lava plain.

For example, the distinct fissure that cuts across the mountains near the top of the picture is the northernmost large fissure of Cerberus Fossae. In my initial post on Cerberus I mistaken thought its large and many hundreds of miles-long fissures might be evidence of underground lava tubes. Since then I have learned while the depressions may signal underground voids, they are not a lava tubes but graben, cracks formed by the movement of the terrain on each side. The cracks opened when past volcanic activity caused the ground to swell upward, stretching and splitting it.

The dark splotch in the flat area just south of the fissure remains me of the maculae found in these lava plains to the west of Olympus Mons, splotches that for still undetermined reasons dust devils like to congregate, blowing off the red dust so that the dark basalt lava becomes visible. No high resolution image of this spot has yet been taken, so this is a pure guess on my part.

The mountains near the bottom of the photo illustrate the ancient lava flood that inundated these mountain peaks. The white box shows the area covered by the recent MRO high resolution image that I include below.

High resolution image of mountains
Click for full image.

This photo was taken on November 2, 2021. While at first glance the material that skirts up against the mountain could be construed as glacial, it is instead frozen lava that has begun to erode over the eons and thus separate from the mountain slopes. There is likely no ice close to the surface here, as these mountains are at 14 degrees north latitude, in the dry equatorial regions.

The frozen lava however indicates the scale of the past eruptions and lava floods. While most of these floods are thought to have occurred more than a billion years ago, the youngest so far identified, the Athabasca flood, is thought to have occurred as recently as 600 million years ago and lies about 400 miles to the southwest.

Whether these peaks were themselves volcanoes or not, it is evident that the lava plains that surround them appear to have mostly buried them.

There was once a lot of volcanic activity on Mars, enough to coat as much as one third of the planet in thick lava, in many layers. Those eruptions also produced the planet’s vast and thick volcanic ash fields that produce the dust that covers the planet.

Any theory trying to outline the long-term climate history of Mars must include that volcanic activity. For long periods on Mars it was volcanism that dominated, changing the atmosphere, the climate, and the surface.

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.


“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.


All editions available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and all book vendors. The ebook can be purchased direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit, in which case you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner. Note that the price for the ebook, $3.99, goes up to $5.99 on September 1, 2022.


Autographed printed copies are also available at discount directly from me (hardback $24.95; paperback $14.95). Just email me at zimmerman @ nasw dot org.

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