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Supervolcanoes on Mars? Researchers say they found calderas.

The discovery of Martian supervolcanoes more powerful than any on Earth 'fundamentally changes the picture of ancient volcanism and climate evolution on Mars,' say researchers.

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This composite photograph of Mars was stitched together from images taken by NASA’s Viking Orbiter spacecraft.

NASA/AP

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Supervolcanoes more powerful than any on Earth appear to have erupted across the surface of Mars early in its history, according to a new study.

The study's authors write that the discovery "fundamentally changes the picture of ancient volcanism and climate evolution on Mars."

The Earth's surface is replete with examples of ancient supervolcanoes, which by definition are capable of blasting more than 240 cubic miles of rock, dust, and magma into the sky and across the landscape. California's Long Valley Caldera, on the back side of the Sierra Nevada, and the Yellowstone Caldera at Yellowstone National Park are but two examples.

Over the decades that robotic spacecraft have visited the red planet, geologists have found evidence for large-scale lava flows from effusive eruptions, where thick gooey magma oozes out of craters and flows across the surrounding terrain.

Researchers also have found shield volcanoes, which can build to enormous heights through repeated eruptions of a more free-flowing form of magma. Mauna Loa is the largest shield volcano on Earth, rising just over 30,000 feet from its undersea base to its above-sea-level summit. Mars boasts the solar system's largest shield volcano, Olympus Mons, which vaults nearly 69,000 feet from its base – a base wide enough to cover most of France.

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