Scientists discover a giant volcano on Mars hiding in plain sight

Scientists using spacecraft data have recently discovered a giant eroded volcano on Mars, which had been hiding in plain sight for decades.

A newly discovered giant volcano on Mars hiding in plain sight
A newly discovered giant volcano on Mars hiding in plain sight. (Image credit: NASA/USGS Mars globe, annotated by Pascal Lee and Sourabh Shubham 2024)

The newly discovered volcano, which is provisionally named “Noctis Mons” (where Noctis means night and Mons means mountain in Latin), is located just south of Mars’s equator. 

The volcano sits on the eastern edge of the largest volcanic region on Mars, called the Tharsis region, and to the west of Valles Marineris, the planet’s vast canyon system. 

The Tharsis region is the home of Mars’s most famous volcanoes, named Ascraeus Mons, Pavonis Mons, Arsia Mons, and Olympus Mons. Among them Olympus Mons is the largest volcano in our solar system, which is about 22,000 meters high.

A topographic map shows the newly discovered giant volcano on Mars and its surrounding regions
A topographic map shows the newly discovered giant volcano on Mars and its surrounding regions. (Image credit: NASA Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter (MOLA) digital elevation model, annotated by Pascal Lee and Sourabh Shubham 2024)

The newly discovered volcano is 9022 meters (29,600 feet) high, 450 kilometers (280 miles) wide, and centered at 7° 35′ S, 93° 55′ W.

The volcano’s gigantic size and complex modification history indicate that it has been active for a very long time.

However, it is not known when the first eruption of the volcano took place or whether it is active now.

In addition to the volcano, scientists have also discovered possible buried glacier ice, which is likely still present under a relatively recent volcanic deposit.

Dr. Pascal Lee, a planetary scientist with the SETI Institute and the Mars Institute based at NASA Ames Research Center, and the lead author of the study, said:

“We were examining the geology of an area where we had found the remains of a glacier last year (in 2023) when we realized we were inside a huge and deeply eroded volcano.”

This volcanic deposit, which spans 5000 square kilometers, is located within the perimeter and to the southeast of the eroded volcano.

So the combined discovery of the giant volcano and possible glacier ice makes this area a new location to study Mars’ geologic evolution through time, search for life, and explore with robots and humans in the future.

Dr. Pascal Lee, also said in a statement:

“It’s really a combination of things that makes the Noctis volcano site exceptionally exciting. It’s an ancient and long-lived volcano so deeply eroded that you could hike, drive, or fly through it to examine, sample, and date different parts of its interior to study Mars’ evolution through time. It has also had a long history of heat interacting with water and ice, which makes it a prime location for astrobiology and our search for signs of life. Finally, with glacier ice likely still preserved near the surface in a relatively warm equatorial region on Mars, the place is looking very attractive for robotic and human exploration.”

Scientists have used the data from NASA’s Mariner 9, Viking Orbiter 1 and 2, Mars Global Surveyor, Mars Odyssey, and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter missions, as well as ESA’s Mars Express mission to make this discovery.

A new scientific paper has been published on the above findings in 2024.

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Ashim

Ashim Chandra Sarkar founded Space & Telescope in 2022. He holds a M.Sc. in physics and has five years of research experience in optical astronomy. His passion for astronomy inspired him to open this website. He is responsible for the editorial vision of spaceandtelescope.com.

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