Mars lava unlocks the red planet's secrets (+video)
The first lava ever seen in an extraterrestrial environment was spotted recently by scientists. It indicates that Mars was shaped by volcanic activity.
Giant coils of lava on Mars suggest a mysterious network of valleys on the planet was born from volcanoes, researchers say.
The origin of the Athabasca Valles region near the equator of Mars has been debated for more than a decade. Some researchers have proposed that lava once shaped the valleys, while others have thought ice was responsible.
The way the ground there is patterned with multisided polygons suggests that either fire or ice could be the culprit — such patterns of cracks might have formed due to seasonal fluctuations in temperature if the surface there was rich in ice, but also might have arose as lava cooled and fractured.
Now high-resolution images beamed back by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter of the Red Planet have revealed 269 spirals of lava that researchers say cannot be explained by ice-related activity. [Photos From NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter]
"This is the first time lava coils have been identified on an extraterrestrial setting," study lead author Andrew Ryan at Arizona State University told SPACE.com. "The most surprising thing about these features when I first saw them was how well-preserved they are."
Ryan spotted all these coils, ranging from 16 to 98 feet wide (5 to 30 meters), by eye.