Mysterious lava-like flows on Mars may be mud eruptions, scientists say

Pablo Tucker
May 19, 2020

A European team of researchers has now simulated the movement of mud on the surface of Mars, with the results published in Nature Geoscience.

Scientists have now uncovered what these flows may be - and it's not quite as exciting as bright red lava. And this could have led to sedimentary volcanism, where pieces of rock and water explode like mud.

However, new research suggests these structures on Mars were not caused by lava or ancient floods, as another theory suggested, but flowing mud which acts very differently on the Red Planet than it does on Earth.

It is probable that those cones on the Martian surface are actually sedimentary volcanoes in which the mud is brought to the surface from a depth of hundreds of feet to over a mile below it. They have long believed that massive amounts of water once flowed freely on the Mars' ground for a brief period.


An unusual laboratory experiment involving the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum fuer Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) has now been able to show how mud flows at very low temperatures and under reduced atmospheric pressure.

Open University has the Mars Chamber, a low-pressure chamber capable of reproducing the atmospheric pressure and composition of Mars, as well as its surface temperature, Brož said in an email to CNN.

"However, the impact of this familiar effect on mud has never been investigated in an experiment before". We know Mars has ice and water, at least at certain times of the year, and frozen mud extrusions could easily explain the features we now see on the surface. The end result is a series of undulating surfaces similar to what's called "pahoehoe" lava on Earth. "However, our experiments clearly show that in reality, this simple process which we all know from our childhood would be very different on Mars".

This implies that mud flows on Mars take a totally totally different course than these on Earth. This observation could support the assumption that numerous conical hills with central craters discovered in the north of Mars are also mud volcanoes. Under Mars' conditions, however, the mud flows did, due to the lower atmospheric pressure.


According to the researchers, this is because the atmosphere in Mars is very thin, about 150 times thinner than Earth's, and its atmospheric pressure is less than 1% of the sea level pressure on Earth. The team demonstrates the mud experiments in the video below. Under such circumstances, liquid water on the Martian floor will not be steady and begins to boil and evaporate.

The staff of researchers had been in a position to present intimately that the mud flows within the experiment behaved like pahoehoe lava, with liquid mud spilling from ruptures within the frozen crust, after which refreezing to type a brand new move lobe.

The phenomena are well known here on Earth, but he'd actually spent several years trying to disprove an interpretation that large numbers of conical forms on the Red Planet might also be the same thing. But were they caused by lava or mud?

Dr. Petr Brož, the leading author of the study, said: "We suggest that mud volcanism can explain the formation of some lava-like flow morphologies on Mars, and that similar processes may apply to eruptions of mud on icy bodies in the outer Solar System, like on Ceres". They found that free flowing mud under Martian conditions behaves differently from on Earth, because of rapid freezing and the formation of an icy crust.


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