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article imageNew ASU study finds rare lava type on Mars

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By Nancy Houser     Apr 28, 2012 in Science
High-resolution photos of Martian lava flows are part of a new study at Arizona's ASU. The 269 rare patterns of coiling nautical spirals have never before been seen on Mars. However, similar patterns have occasionally been viewed on Earth.
Arizona State University graduate students, Andrew Ryan and Phil Christensen, have completed the study which was published on April 27, 2012, in the scientific journal Science Mag. According to Science Daily, the rare lava type on Mars was developed by cooling lava that formed when the lava was pulled in two different directions simultaneously, forming geographical snail or nautilus shell patterns.
The image to the left was photographed in a volcanic region called Cerberus Palus, a small plain in the Elysium quadrangle of Mars. The study began because of the possible interactions of lava flows and floods of water in the volcanic province. "In the past, a few scientists have argued that the plates in Elysium are in fact underlain by water ice." The large slabs or plates resemble broken floes of pack ice in the Arctic Ocean on Earth.
Lava swirls in a channel in Cerberus Palus  Mars
Lava swirls in a channel in Cerberus Palus, Mars
NASA / JPL / MSSS
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The spiral patterns in Cerberus Palus are morphologically consistent with lava coils on Earth that form on the surface of active and stagnated pahoehoe lava flows and lava lakes. Terrestrial lava coils range from 5 cm to at least 10 m in diameter. Two types of coils have been observed in terrestrial lava flows, each with slightly different characteristics and formation processes. The first forms along distinct shear zones between two blocks of crust above flowing lava. Strips of crust are pulled away and physically coiled from the differential motion. These coils are typically small (1 m or less in width) and may have centers higher, lower, or coplanar with the margin. The second, larger form also develops in shear zones where wrinkles in thin congealed lava skins or molten lava exuded through ephemeral shear cracks rotate slowly. (ScienceMag)
Giant coils of lava on Mars are suggesting a mysterious network of valleys on the planet was born from volcanoes. Debated over the past decade by researchers, one theory suggests that ice was responsible for the shape of the Martian valley; another theory suggests that it was shaped by lava.
Mars is the home of the largest known volcano in the solar system, Olympus Mons, which towers over Mars' western hemisphere. At 16 miles (25 km) high, it is about three times as tall as Mount Everest, Earth's highest mountain.
"This is the first time lava coils have been identified on an extraterrestrial setting," study lead author Andrew Ryan at Arizona State University told SPACE.com. "The most surprising thing about these features when I first saw them was how well-preserved they are."
NASA instruments used were the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter; daytime and nighttime infrared and visual images from the Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS) camera on Mars Odyssey orbit; the Context Camera (CTX) on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, the High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC) on Mars Express, and the Mars Orbiter Camera (MOC) on Mars Global Surveyor were all studied as well.
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