Giant Lava Coils Seen for First Time on Mars

By | April 27, 2012

Resembling corkscrew snail shells, these interesting patterns are actually rare lava flows seen for the first time on Mars.

NASA’s HiRISE spacecraft, currently in orbit around Mars, spotted the formations in an area called Athabasca Valles, a tear-shaped landform thought to have been created by catastrophic flooding.

Such coils are occasionally seen on Earth, mostly in the ropey pahoehoe lava flows on the Big Island of Hawaii or in the submarine Galapagos Rift on the bottom of the Pacific.

The Martian lava coils are about 100 feet across — much larger than their terrestrial counterparts, which are often only a foot or so in size.

These coils form when two lava flows move past one another at different speeds or directions. The lava swirls and bunches, and when it hardens it leaves behind these interesting features.

A paper about the discovery appeared Apr. 26 in Science.


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