Was it fire or ice? A series of lava spirals on Mars suggest that the network of valleys on the red planet was formed by volcanoes.
Space.com reports that researchers have been debating the origins of the Athabasca Valles for more than a decade.
Some believe that lave shaped the valleys while other say that the region was formed by ice. New high-resolution images from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter show several lava spirals on the surface of Mars, which researchers say is proof that the valleys were formed by fire.
Lead author Andrew Ryan at Arizona State University told SPACE.com:
“This is the first time lava coils have been identified on an extraterrestrial setting… The most surprising thing about these features when I first saw them was how well-preserved they are.”
The new images identified 269 lava spirals on Mars. Ryan estimates that the smallest spiral is about 16 feet wide and the largest is close to 100 feet.
“The coils become noticeable in the full-resolution HiRISE image only when you really zoom in. They also tend to blend in with the rest of the light-grey terrain – that is, until you stretch the contrast a bit. I don’t find it surprising that these were overlooked in the past. I nearly missed them too.”
Mars is home to Olympus Mons, the largest known volcano in the solar system. The Olympus Mons stands 16 miles tall, which is about three time’s higher than Mount Everest. Ryan said that the lava spirals could give clues about the composition of the “martian crust and mantle, things we don’t know much about.”
Ryan’s study was published today in the Science Journal.