Martian mud flows like lava
May 19, 2020

Martian mud flows like lava

An investigation of how mud flows at very low temperatures and under the reduced atmospheric pressure of Mars, undertaken through a Europlanet 2020 RI Transnational Access visit, has been published in the journal Nature Geoscience.  Research carried out at the Open University’s Mars Chamber in 2018 has shown that mud flowing under martian conditions behaves in a similar way to lava in volcanic areas of Hawaii or Iceland.

Water-rich mud was poured over a cold sandy surface in hostile, Mars-like conditions, with multiple cameras capturing the results. The experiments revealed that the instability of water within the mud changes the way the mud flows on Mars, compared to on Earth.

Liquid mud spills from ruptures in the frozen muddy crust, then refreezes to form “lobes”. The findings suggests that martian mud volcanoes may be substantially different in shape and look very different from their terrestrial equivalents. This work has wide implications for understanding cryovolcanism on icy bodies in the Solar System.

Lead author of the study, Dr. Petr Brož from the Institute of Geophysics of the Czech Academy of Sciences, said, “This is a very exciting and unexpected result. We have a tendency to expect that geological processes, like mud movement, would be operating elsewhere in the Solar system in a similar fashion as on Earth. Our experiments clearly show that, in reality, this simple process would be very different on Mars.”

Title image credit: P. Broz.