May 25, 2015 01:37 PM EDT
The European Space Agency has found what it believes to be a supervolcano on the surface of Mars that could be the Red Planet's equivalent of Yellowstone. The massive crater has been measured to be 40 kilometers by 30 kilometers and drops as low as 1,750 meters.
The exterior of Mars is full of holes and craters. One of these, however, stands out among the rest. The Siloe Patera crater, which is located in the Arabia Terra region of the planet, actually consists of two large craters that overlap one another and covers a total area of 120 square kilometers.
Images of the crater were captures using the high resolution stereo camera aboard the European Space Agency's Mars Express craft on November 26, 2014.
Supervolcanoes are simply large volcanoes that can produce at least 1,000 cubic kilometers of volcanic material during an eruption. For example, scientists recently discovered a new magma chamber in Yellowstone here on Earth that contains anywhere between 30,000 and 116,000 cubic kilometers of volcanic material. That is enough material to fill the Grand Canyon 11 times.
Scientists studying the Siloe Patera crater on Mars believe that the crater is actually a caldera, the collapsed center of a volcano. Unlike regular volcanoes, supervolcanoes do not have a cone shape because the enormity of the explosion triggered by the pressure of the magma and the speed in which it happens.
That means that finding a supervolcano that erupted millions, or even billions of years ago is not always easy.
"A number of irregularly shaped craters have been detected in the Arabia Terra region that could represent a family of ancient supervolcano calderas," said spokespersons for the European Space Agency. "Siloe Patera is one such example. It is characterized by two depressions with steep-sided walls, collapse features and low topographic relief."
Researchers at the ESA believe this could be a caldera instead of an impac crater because the latter usually have uplifted rims and a central peak as well as ejecta blankets surrounding them. The differences in the depressions could also be evidence of two different eruptions when magma was released. There are also several small channels and gullies that are cut into the walls.
"The valley, along with numerous other small channels in the immediate vicinity, appears to cut through material to the lower left of the craters that could be either ejecta from an impact or volcanic flow," the ESA says.
ESA researchers admit that it is difficult to say for certain that Siloe Patera is for certain a supervolcano, as more data and information are still required.
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