BREAKING NEWS : Downtown Fort Wayne George Floyd protest returns to Citizens Square Full Story

Weather Blog: Mud flows like lava on Mars

New research has suggested that some lava-like formations on Mars are actually the product of mud that flowed like lava.

Posted: May 19, 2020 3:53 PM

(CNN) -- The surface of Mars is covered in intriguing features that suggest hints about the planet's past and the water that once existed on its surface.

New research has suggested that some lava-like formations on Mars are actually the product of mud that flowed like lava — not unlike traditional volcanoes like the ones we have on Earth.

The study published Monday in the journal Nature Geoscience.

For years, Petr Brož, a researcher at the Institute of Geophysics of the Czech Academy of Sciences has been fascinated by detailed satellite images showing unique features on the Martian surface. Tens of thousands of kilometer-high steep cones are spread across Mars' northern hemisphere, and each cone bears a small crater on top.

Brož wanted to know if they were formed by magma or mud. But in order to study this, Brož and his colleagues would have to establish how mud might behave on the Martian surface. But none of the researchers who he asked knew.

Brož found a way to test how mud might react on Mars when he met Manish Patel, a senior lecturer in planetary sciences at The Open University who has also worked on multiple instruments for robotic space missions, including the European Space Agency's ExoMars rover that will launch in 2022.

The Open University has the Mars Chamber, a low-pressure chamber that can reproduce Mars' atmospheric pressure and composition, as well as its surface temperature, Brož said in an email to CNN. Although it's still influenced by Earth's gravity, rather than that of Mars, it's the closest researchers can get to performing experiments on Mars.

'Playing with mud'
It's 3 feet in diameter and 5.9 feet long, and during Brož's experiments, things got a little messy. For a month, they averaged 10 hours a day in the lab, "playing with mud" to test what it might do on Mars.

When the chamber was set to negative 4 degrees Fahrenheit, they poured the mud. Surprisingly, the mud did not freeze immediately. Instead, it formed an icy crust over the liquid mud inside. Liquid mud would then spill from cracks in the frozen crust, which then refreeze.

Due to the simulated Martian conditions, such as the low atmospheric pressure, the water became unstable and boiled and evaporated. This caused the mud to eventually cool and freeze.

The formations created by this process look similar to "ropy" lava flows in Hawaii and Iceland, where undulating surfaces form as the lava slowly cools.

Compared to experiments with mud at Earth's atmospheric pressure, the mud didn't form an icy crust, expand or create lava shapes even as the temperature dropped.

Brož didn't expect that mud might move like lava on other planets and said this has "shaken my world a bit."

It's likely that those cones on the Martian surface are in fact sedimentary volcanoes where mud is brought up to the surface from a depth of hundreds of feet to even more than a mile below it. "Sedimentary volcanoes work as a window to the subsurface," he said.

The conical features can be found in the same area where long, wide channels left their mark on the Martian surface, revealing where giant floods likely erupted from beneath the surface. And this could have led to sedimentary volcanism, where pieces of rock and water erupt as mud.

The presence of mud suggested something else that once existed on Mars: water. Mars likely had a warm stable environment, atmosphere and global magnetic field that allowed water to exist on the surface billions of years ago.

What lies beneath
"If these features are indeed results of sedimentary volcanism, this is saying to us that in these areas somewhere in the subsurface has to be a source of mud," Brož said. "In other words, there has to be, or had to be, some sort of aquifer containing liquid water to mobilize the fine-grained sediments and take them to the surface of Mars."

It's hard to estimate the age of the cones, but they're definitely younger than the flat plains they sit on. Brož estimated that they could be between a few hundreds of millions to 2 billion years old.

This makes studying Mars a little more difficult in the future.

"Mud flows can look quite similar as magmatic lava flows on Mars," Brož said. "So in principle we are complicating the future exploration of Mars via satellite images, as we are proposing that two very different mechanisms caused similarly looking features, which will be hard to distinguish from each other."

If the flows are attributed to magma, that means a source of magma and heat must be present nearby below the surface. And if it's sedimentary or muddy, that suggests liquid water — and heat that keeps the water liquid, below the surface.

Brož believed that this kind of sedimentary, or mud volcanism, could be present in other places throughout our solar system like Ceres, a dwarf planet between Mars and Jupiter in the asteroid belt.

Some features on its surface, like the Ahuna Mons mountain, as well as bright deposits in the Occator crater, could be caused by water, rocks and salts brought to the surface. This suggests that liquid water, and maybe even a muddy water ocean, may be beneath the dwarf planet's icy crust.

The same could be true of other icy moons, like Jupiter's moon Europa, Saturn's moon Enceladus or Uranus' moon Triton.

In the future, Brož wants to test more mud in the Mars Chamber under different conditions.

During one experiment with mud in the chamber, pieces of mud actually levitated because the gases releasing from the mud were able to lift it for a period of time. Those results will be shared in a future study, he said.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 33558

Reported Deaths: 2110
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion9616571
Lake3538185
Cass15897
Allen145168
St. Joseph124834
Elkhart116328
Hendricks116171
Hamilton115693
Johnson1093108
Madison58559
Porter51627
Bartholomew50034
Clark49241
LaPorte42423
Howard39526
Tippecanoe3903
Jackson3791
Delaware37736
Shelby36822
Hancock32728
Floyd31839
Boone30935
Morgan27824
Vanderburgh2652
Montgomery23517
White2318
Decatur22431
Clinton2231
Noble21121
Grant20621
Harrison19221
Dubois1923
Henry16910
Greene16824
Monroe16612
Warrick16628
Dearborn16621
Vigo1648
Lawrence15423
Miami1411
Putnam1367
Jennings1304
Orange12522
Scott1193
Kosciusko1111
Franklin1098
Ripley1086
Carroll922
Marshall901
Daviess8516
Steuben812
Newton7710
Wayne776
Fayette767
Wabash762
LaGrange712
Jasper651
Washington521
Jay500
Fulton481
Clay471
Rush462
Randolph463
Pulaski460
Jefferson431
Whitley393
Starke363
Sullivan341
Owen341
Brown331
DeKalb331
Perry310
Benton300
Knox290
Wells280
Huntington272
Tipton251
Crawford240
Blackford242
Fountain202
Switzerland200
Spencer191
Parke170
Posey160
Gibson142
Adams131
Ohio130
Warren121
Martin110
Vermillion100
Union80
Pike60
Unassigned0164

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 34566

Reported Deaths: 2131
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Franklin5674256
Cuyahoga4318226
Marion265728
Hamilton2603147
Lucas2202240
Pickaway205036
Mahoning1405173
Summit1380172
Butler86229
Columbiana73951
Stark71691
Lorain67259
Montgomery65117
Trumbull56248
Belmont41912
Warren35920
Miami35530
Tuscarawas3393
Ashtabula33034
Medina32823
Portage32257
Delaware32013
Lake30212
Wood28546
Geauga27732
Wayne26650
Fairfield2586
Clark2526
Licking23010
Allen21232
Clermont2065
Mercer2037
Richland1973
Erie16711
Darke16721
Madison1527
Washington11819
Crawford1104
Morrow1051
Greene1015
Ottawa9513
Putnam9014
Monroe7712
Sandusky7311
Auglaize713
Hocking694
Ross682
Jefferson672
Huron561
Williams541
Union511
Muskingum500
Hancock501
Hardin450
Clinton430
Fayette400
Shelby403
Wyandot392
Fulton390
Coshocton380
Logan370
Preble351
Guernsey340
Defiance332
Holmes321
Carroll303
Lawrence300
Brown281
Champaign271
Knox241
Highland231
Ashland200
Seneca202
Vinton192
Perry181
Athens181
Henry150
Scioto150
Paulding140
Jackson130
Harrison100
Adams91
Gallia71
Van Wert60
Meigs60
Pike60
Noble60
Morgan50
Unassigned00
Fort Wayne
Few Clouds
66° wxIcon
Hi: 69° Lo: 44°
Feels Like: 66°
Angola
Few Clouds
64° wxIcon
Hi: 66° Lo: 41°
Feels Like: 64°
Huntington
Few Clouds
66° wxIcon
Hi: 69° Lo: 45°
Feels Like: 66°
Decatur
Clear
66° wxIcon
Hi: 70° Lo: 45°
Feels Like: 66°
Van Wert
Clear
66° wxIcon
Hi: 70° Lo: 45°
Feels Like: 66°
Sunny Sunday
WFFT Radar
WFFT Temperatures
WFFT National

Community Events