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Mars' Vast Fields of Glass



The surface of Mars exhibits numerous lava flows and other signs of effusive volcanism. Although models suggest that explosive volcanism should also have produced extensive deposits, direct evidence for large-scale explosive volcanism has been scarce. 

A new study by Briony Horgan and James F. Bell III at Arizona State University of the mineralogy of dark regions covering more than ten million square kilometers in the northern hemisphere of Mars has revealed that these regions are dominantly composed of glass. 

The glass is most likely volcanic glass produced during explosive eruptions, and potential sources include volcano-ice interactions in the northern lowlands as well as ash deposits from the large martian shield volcanoes. 

The glass deposits also exhibit signs of weathering, indicating widespread interactions with liquid water. Under the hyper-arid climatic conditions Mars has experienced over the past three billion years or more, the most likely source of this water is melting ice or snow. 

These results suggest that explosive volcanism may be a major source of sediments on Mars, and that limited liquid water has been present at the surface of Mars even under long-term hyper-arid conditions.
The three-dimensional image at the top of the page of the Nili Fossae region of Mars Northern Hemisphere shows a type of minerals called phyllosilicates (in magenta and blue hues) concentrated on the slopes of mesas and along canyon walls. The abundance of phyllosilicates shows that water played a sizable role in changing the minerals of a variety of terrains in the planet's early history.

The Daily Galaxy via http://www.geosociety.org/news/pr/12-24.htm -- Widespread weathered glass on the surface of Mars Briony Horgan and James F. Bell III, School of Earth and Space Exploration, Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona 85281, USA. Posted online 26 March 2012; doi: 10.1130/G32755.1.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL/The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/University of Arizona/Brown University.

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