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Mars Shield Volcano Summit Comes With Pear-Shaped Crater, a Sign the Volcano Is Dead

Impact crater in a shield volcano summit caldera 6 photos
Photo: NASA/JPL/UArizona
Olympus MonsImpact crater in a shield volcano summit calderaOlympus MonsOlympus MonsOlympus Mons
Generally speaking, impact craters turn out circular in shape, hence easily recognizable. There are times though when, depending on a lot of factors, including angle of impact and the topography of the terrain, that’s not what we get.
The pear-shaped crater we’ve got here is one of those exceptions. It sits on the summit caldera of a shield volcano at an unspecified location on Mars and is being brought before our eyes by the HiRISE camera that is orbiting the planet.

Snapped all the way back in 2010, the image may seem like completely uninteresting to the naked eye, if it weren’t for the strangely-shaped crater seen there. For the scientists looking at these things for a living though, they come with invaluable information about the planet.

As far as we know, the place is completely dead in more ways than one, including when it comes to the presence of volcanic activity, after sometime long ago Mars was extremely volcanically-alive.

There is one thing though that scientists cannot fully explain right now, and that is the presence of methane gas in the planet’s atmosphere. It’s not entirely clear where it comes from, and volcanic activity might be an answer.

To prove or disprove the theory, people are looking at photos such as this in search of tell-tale signs. In this case, the “summit caldera is mantled by dust and covered by small impact craters, so there is essentially zero chance that this volcano was active recently enough to affect current atmospheric trace gases,” as people from NASA and the University of Arizona, who run the HiRISE, say.

As for the shield volcano itself, it is one of many on Mars. The largest would be Olympus Mons, which rises 22 km (14 miles) above the surface of the planet, three times higher than the mightiest mountain here on Earth, Everest.
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Editor's note: Gallery shows Olympus Mons region of Mars.

About the author: Daniel Patrascu
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Daniel loves writing (or so he claims), and he uses this skill to offer readers a "behind the scenes" look at the automotive industry. He also enjoys talking about space exploration and robots, because in his view the only way forward for humanity is away from this planet, in metal bodies.
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