A lava flow on a Martian lava plain

A lava flow on a Martian lava plain
Click for original image.

While much of surface of the Martian equatorial regions is comprised of volcanic flood lava, the place where it is most obvious and evident is on the flanks of the three giant volcanoes of the Tharsis Bulge. Here, lava did not simple spout from surface vents to flood low-lying large areas, filling those depressions quickly almost like water. Instead it issued from vents on the slopes of those mountains, or from their calderas at their peaks, and flowed downhill almost like tsunamis of magma.

The picture to the right, rotated, cropped, reduced, and sharpened to post here, is a great example. Taken on March 11, 2023 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), it shows the foot of one such flow, frozen in place as it oozed down hill from the Arsia Mons, about 300 miles away to the northwest.
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Two skylights into connected Martian lava tube?

Two skylights into a connected Martian lava tube?
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Cool image time! The photo to the right, cropped and annotated to post here, was taken on September 1, 2021 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). I have annotated it to note the two apparent skylights that appear aligned along a north-south depression.

The grade is downhill to the north. If you look at the full image you will see that this north-south depression extends for a considerable distance beyond the edges of the cropped image above, with that depression appearing to dissipate to the north into a series of parallel very shallow depressions, almost like the lava had flowed out of the tube and formed branching surface rivulets heading south.

The overview map shows that this tube is on the northern flanks of the volcano Arsia Mons.
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On the edge of Mars’ giant volcanic flood plain

Flows and pitted material on the edge of Mars' great volcanic flood plain
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Cool image time! The photo to the right, cropped and reduced to post here, was taken on September 30, 2020 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). Uncaptioned, it shows what the science team labels “Flows and pitted material in Terra Sirenum.”

Downhill is to the southeast, which means the pitted material forms some sort of filled terrain, with the surface eroded similarly everywhere. At a latitude of 32 degrees south, these flows could conceivably be glacial features. Are they?

A wider look might help answer that question. Below is a photo taken by MRO’s context camera, cropped and reduced to post here.
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Exploring one of Mars’ giant volcanoes

Master index

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.