Oct 22, 2018 | Updated: 04:34 PM EDT

Next Stop for Curiosity Rover? Lava Mound May Hold Answers to Ancient Martian Lava Flows

Dec 09, 2014 01:22 PM EST

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While NASA's Curiosity Rover revealed a possible location for reoccurring lakes on the surface of the red planet last week, NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is finding even larger discoveries from its vantage point in the sky. Capturing new images with its HiRISE camera, one of six onboard instruments used by the orbiter, Reconnaissance has found evidence of one of the largest lava mounds found to date. And while it looks like a crispy pie pulled right from the oven, researchers say that the 1.2-mile wide circle of Martian crust is composed of iron-rich metamorphic rock, created thousands of years ago in a series of lava flows.

The strange landform is located in the Athabasca region of Mars, and as other past evidence confirms, the mound may be evidence of some of Mars' youngest lava flows.

"Perhaps lava has intruded underneath this mound and pushed it up from beneath" NASA spokespersons from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in charge of Reconnaissance say. "It looks as if material is missing from the mound, so it is also possible that there was a significant amount of ice in the mound that was driven out by the heat of the lava."

And since researchers from NASA don't yet have enough evidence to confirm their theories on the strange lava mound, project leads for Mars' Curiosity Rover are suggesting that the rover could perhaps go in search of Athabasca next. The puzzling geologic phenomenon could have very well developed when Mars was still quite young, and due to that fact researchers are hopeful that in studying this mound that they may also reveal a bit more about the history of the red planet.

NASA confirmed that teams dedicated to Mars' Reconnaissance mission will continue to analyze the images captured by the orbiter in hopes of finding answers. However, many are already beginning to itch for a sample of the rock, which could easily give researchers an idea of the minerals and history rich within Mars' scarred surface.

"We hope that close inspection of this HiRISE image, and others around it will provide some clues regarding its formation."

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