Scientists have discovered evidence of supervolcano on the surface of Mars.
Up until now, teams from NASA and the Planetary Science Institute thought that a vast, circular basin on the red planet was caused by an impact in the distant past.
But new images and topographical data suggest it was actually the remains of a supervolcano eruption.
The data comes from a range of spacecraft that are currently orbiting the planet, including NASA’s Mars Odyssey, Mars Global Surveyor and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft, as well as the European Space Agency’s Mars Express orbiter.
Joseph Michalski, a researcher affiliated with the Planetary Science Institute and the Natural History Museum in London, is part of the team that has been examining the images.
"On Mars, young volcanoes have a very distinctive appearance that allows us to identify them," he said.
"The long-standing question has been what ancient volcanoes on Mars look like. Perhaps they look like this one."
The team believe that when the volcano erupted, it would have done so in spectacular fashion – spewing magma loaded with gas across the landscape.
"This highly explosive type of eruption is a game-changer, spewing many times more ash and other material than typical, younger Martian volcanoes," said Jacob Bleacher of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.
"During these types of eruptions on Earth, the debris may spread so far through the atmosphere and remain so long that it alters the global temperature for years."
After the material is ejected from the volcano, the ground around it can collapse and sink which causes a depression. This is what can make it look like a crater caused by an impact.
"If just a handful of volcanoes like these were once active, they could have had a major impact on the evolution of Mars," Bleacher said.
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