Mars, the quiet and dusty planet that we see today, has a surprisingly violent history that could shed light on Earth’s own past. A recent survey of the Martian surface has revealed that in its early years, Mars was filled with massive volcanoes akin to the ones that shaped Earth before the formation of tectonic plates around 3 billion years ago. Researchers, led by planetary scientist Joseph Michalski from the University of Hong Kong, meticulously cataloged evidence of volcanic activity in the Eridania region of the planet’s southern hemisphere using data from various orbiters.

Unlike Earth, with its tectonic plates floating on the mantle, Mars is believed to be a one-plate planet, leading to the growth of enormous and explosive volcanoes. The largest of these, Olympus Mons, is a shield volcano that dwarfs Earth’s largest volcano, Mauna Loa in Hawaii, by a factor of 100. The absence of tectonic activity on Mars allowed these volcanoes to reach such immense sizes, offering a unique glimpse into the planet’s geological history and potentially revealing insights into how Earth’s crust may have formed.

With approximately 70% of Mars’ surface being over 3 billion years old and 45% dating back over 3.6 billion years, the planet’s ancient geologic record remains largely intact. This provides researchers with a valuable opportunity to study early Solar System geological conditions and the evolution of planetary crusts. The intensely magnetized crust of the Eridania region, coupled with evidence of an ancient Martian sea, further adds to the intrigue surrounding Mars’ volcanic history.

The researchers identified four different types of volcanoes in and around the Eridania sea, including volcanic domes, stratovolcanoes, pyroclastic shields, and caldera complexes. These volcanic structures, while similar to those found on Earth, exhibit slightly larger diameters due to Mars’ lower gravity and more explosive volcanic activity. The presence of felsic volcanic compositions in the region distinguishes it from other volcanic areas on Mars, adding to its unique characteristics.

The topography of the Eridania region provides valuable insights into the early Martian landscape. The presence of thick volcanic deposits, warped and folded crust sections, and sagging basins suggests that Mars’ crust may have undergone a slow overturning process similar to vertical tectonics. The researchers speculate that numerous undiscovered volcanoes may lie hidden in the Eridania region, potentially having erupted beneath an ancient sea, drawing parallels to Earth’s early history as a water-covered planet during the Archean period.

The study of Mars’ volcanic past offers a fascinating glimpse into the planet’s tumultuous history and its potential relevance to understanding Earth’s geological evolution. The violent volcanic activity that once shaped Mars serves as a reminder of the dynamic processes that have shaped rocky planets in our solar system, highlighting the importance of planetary studies in unraveling the mysteries of our planetary neighbors.

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