The unveiling of mesmerizing new images portraying the solar system’s most monumental volcano has captured the attention of both astronomers and space enthusiasts. These images vividly display a remarkable alteration of terrain at the base of Mars’ Olympus Mons, attributed to an ancient and catastrophic landslide on the planet’s surface.
Olympus Mons, an immense shield volcano towering 13.6 miles high, surpasses Mount Everest’s peak above sea level by 2.5 times. Its debut on the astronomical stage dates back to 1971 when NASA’s Mariner 9 spacecraft first spotted its awe-inspiring grandeur.
However, as time progressed, a perplexing aspect of the volcano’s lower slopes garnered significant interest. Astronomers observed an extensive expanse of rugged-textured rock radiating outward from its base, stretching across vast distances.
Bordering this geological phenomenon, named an ‘aureole,’ loomed a steep cliff face, reaching staggering heights of up to 26,000 feet in certain areas. This intriguing feature was dubbed Lycus Sulci, yet its origins remained shrouded in mystery until years of dedicated observation helped piece together the puzzle.
In a statement released on August 23rd, the European Space Agency (ESA) disclosed that this rugged, steep landscape likely formed due to catastrophic landslides occurring millions of years ago along the lower slopes of the volcano.
According to the ESA, “The volcano once experienced extensive lava flows that triggered massive landslides cascading down its sides, ultimately encountering bedrock… which harbored ice and water.”
“The intensely scorching lava prompted the ice to thaw, rendering it unstable; consequently, the rocky rim encircling Olympus Mons fractured and partially gave way,” continued the agency. “This collapse manifested as colossal rock avalanches and landslides that descended and dispersed widely across the neighboring plains.”
As these sweeping landslides journeyed across the Martian terrain, they underwent alternating compression and extension, ultimately giving rise to the characteristic wrinkles observable in the aureole. Over time, these ridges gained even greater prominence as Martian winds swept across the surface, dispersing dust and sand across their crests.
These profound deductions have become possible through the imagery captured by ESA’s Mars Express spacecraft, equipped with its cutting-edge High-Resolution Stereo Camera. Since its launch in 2003, the satellite has unveiled invaluable insights into the Martian topography.
The endeavor has not only furnished a more comprehensive cartography of the Martian atmosphere’s chemical constitution but has also retraced the narrative of water across the planet. These revelations offer tantalizing hints about the prehistoric circumstances of our planetary neighbor, along with its latent potential to have nurtured ancient life.”