For decades, the Medusae Fossae Formation, a massive and strange hilly landscape that extends for more than 3,100 miles across Mars's equators has baffled scientists.
The strange Martian rock formation was first spotted back in the 1960s when NASA's Mariner spacecraft took a snapshot of Mars's surface. Experts were unable to decipher the mysterious occurrence since then. The region has in fact, for many times, spawned alien conspiracy theories due to its unexplained existence.
Now, a team of scientists said Medusae Fossae Formation was a result of strings and massive volcanic eruptions that took place more than 3 billion years ago. The conclusion of the new study could help scientists understand the geology of Mars and could contribute answers to questions on whether Mars could support life
Medusae Fossae Formation
The landscape is estimated to be one-fifth as large as the continental United States. The sedimentary deposits that comprised the land structure were also found to be 100 times more massive than the largest volcanic deposit seen on Earth.
Hence, the Medusae Fossae Formation is the largest known explosive volcanic deposit in the solar system, the authors of the new study concluded.
Experts were previously unsure whether the strange rock formation was comprised of highly porous rock or a combination of rock and ice. To answer this puzzle, the authors of the new study measured the density of the rock formation using gravity data and radar data from various Mars orbiter spacecraft.
They found that the rocks are about two-thirds as dense compared to other regions of the Martian crust. The ice composition, on the other hand, is less dense than the layers of rock.
The scientists surmised that the porosity of the rocks could only be achieved if it was deposited by a series of explosive volcanic eruptions and not just one giant flare-up. The authors proposed that there had to be a several and probably consecutive wave of explosions, spewing hot carbon dioxide and water vapor, which in return, push the molten rocks onto to the Mars's surface.
"This (Medusae Fossae Formation) is a massive deposit, not only on a Martian scale but also in terms of the solar system, because we do not know of any other deposit that is like this," highlighted Lujendra Ojha, the lead author of the study and a planetary scientist at Johns Hopkins University.
Mars's Potential For Habitability
The study published in the Journal of Geophysical Research on May 22 said the formation of the Medusae Fossae marked a milestone in Mars' history. The toxic hydrogen sulfide and sulfur dioxide gasses spewed during the series of volcanic eruptions altered the climate in Mars.
The atmosphere might have become contaminated as well. The water vapor from the volcanoes was so immense that the Red Planet was covered with a global ocean which was approximately 4 inches deep. These gases could have warmed Mars's surface that caused the water to remain liquid at its surface.
Ojha, therefore, concluded that toxic gasses and water underneath Mars would have affected the planet's potential for habitability. Furthermore, Mars's interior may still contain massive amounts of unpredictable toxic gasses because only substantial erratic gasses could have given birth to strange rock formation as strange as the Medusae Fossae Formation.