Lava-like Flows on Mars May be Mud

Channels and fractures in Sulci Gordii, Mars. The image was taken by the High Resolution Stereo Camera on ESA’s Mars Express. Image credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin (G. Neukum), CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

To date, it has been difficult to determine whether volcanic structures on Mars are necessarily lava flows. A new study suggests that these features were formed from the movement of mud rather than lava. A team of researchers led by Petr Brož of the Czech Academy of Sciences carried out experiments simulating the movement of mud under low pressure and at extremely cold temperatures (-20°C) to mimic the martian environment. They found that mud flows on Mars would behave differently than on Earth because of rapid freezing and the formation of an icy crust. Under these conditions, the mud flows behave in much the same way as do “pahoehoe” lava frequently occurring on Hawaii or Iceland. The authors caution that “it is vital to consider the effects of the differing environmental conditions on other planetary surfaces when comparing analogue landforms observed on Earth with apparently similar effusive morphologies on other bodies.” They suggest that similar processes may apply to eruptions of mud on other bodies, such as the dwarf planet Ceres, and to cryovolcanism on icy satellites. READ MORE