Gigantic volcanoes, profound canyons, and craters that host running water or not make Mars a planet of vast contrasts. Exploring the first Red Planet colonies will be an incredible place for potential visitors. Here are top places in Mars that might be visited by future Martians.
Olympus Mons is the solar system’s most severe volcano. Located in the volcanic area of Tharsis. According to NASA, it is about the same size as the country of Arizona. Its 16 miles (25 kilometers) height makes it almost three times the height of Mount Everest on Earth, which is about 5.5 miles (8.9 km) high.
It is a massive shield volcano that was created by slow crawling of lava down its slopes. This implies the mountain is likely to be simple to climb for potential explorers as its average slope is only 5 percent. At its peak is stunning depression some 53 miles (85 km) wide, created by magma chambers that lost lava and collapsed (probably during an eruption).
It’s worth sticking around to look at some of the other volcanoes in the Tharsis region while climbing Olympus Mons. According to NASA, Tharsis hosts 12 giant volcanoes in an area approximately 2500 miles (4000 km) wide. These volcanoes tend to be much bigger than those on Earth. Probably because Mars has a weaker gravitational pull that enables the volcanoes to grow bigger. For around two billion years, or half of Mars history, these volcanoes may have erupted.
The image shows the eastern region of Tharsis as photographed in 1980 by Viking 1. From top to bottom, you can see three shield volcanoes that are about 16 miles (25 km) high. Ascraeus Mons, Pavonis Mons, and Arsia Mons. Another shield volcano named Tharsis Tholus is at the upper right.
Mars hosts not only the solar system’s largest volcano but also the largest canyon. According to NASA, Valles Marineris is approximately 1850 miles (3000 km) long. That’s about four times longer than the Grand Canyon, which has a length of about 800 km long.
Researchers aren’t sure how Valles Marineris came to be, but its formation has several theories. Many researchers indicate that when the Tharsis area was formed, it contributed to Valles Marineris growth.
Lava moving through the volcanic region pushed up the crust, which in other regions broke the crust into fractures. These fractures grew into Valles Marineris over time.
The North and South Poles
Mars has two icy areas at its poles, with slightly varying compositions. The north pole (pictured) was closely studied by the Phoenix lander in 2008, while our observations on the south pole come from orbiters. According to NASA, temperatures at both the north and south poles are so cold during the winter that carbon dioxide condenses into ice from the atmosphere, on the ground.
During summer the process reverses. The carbon dioxide sublimates back into the atmosphere. The carbon dioxide in the northern hemisphere totally disappears, leaving a water ice cap behind. But in the southern atmosphere, some of the carbon dioxide ice remains. All this movement of ice has enormous impacts on Martian climate, generating winds and other effects.
Gale Crater and Mount Sharp (Aeolis Mons)
Famous for the Curiosity rover’s landing in 2012, Gale Crater is hosting extensive evidence of past water. Within weeks of landing, Curiosity stumbled upon a stream bed and discovered larger evidence of water during its trip along the crater surface. Curiosity also summits a neighboring volcano called Mount Sharp (Aeolis Mons) and looks at each of its strata’s geological characteristics.
One of the more interesting findings of Curiosity was the discovery of complex organic molecules in the region on various occasions. Results from 2018 announced that inside 3.5 billion-year-old rocks, these organics were found.
Researchers also announced that the rover discovered methane levels in the atmosphere change over the seasons simultaneously with the organic results. Methane is an element that microbes can produce, as well as geological phenomena. So, it’s uncertain whether this is a sign of life.
Medusae Fossae is one of the strangest places on Mars, with some people even speculating it holds evidence of some kind of UFO crash. The more probable explanation is it is an enormous volcanic deposit, around one-fifth of the size of the United States.
Winds have carved the rocks into some lovely formations over time. But scientists will need more research to discover how these volcanoes created Medusae Fossae. A research in 2018 proposed that the formation could have resulted from enormous volcanic eruptions that occur hundreds of times over 500 million years ago.
Recurring Slope Lineae in Hale Crater
Mars is host to bizarre features called recurring slope lineae, that tend to form during hot weather on the sides of steep craters. However, it is difficult to figure out what these RSLs are. Pictures shown here from Hale Crater (as well as other places) indicate places where signs of hydration were collected by spectroscopy.
NASA initially announced in 2015 that hydrated salts must be signs of running water on the surface, but later research said that the RSL could be formed from atmospheric water or from dry sand flows. In reality, we might have to get close to these RSLs to see what their true nature is.
But there’s a problem— if the RSL actually host alien microbes, we wouldn’t want to get too near in case of contamination. While NASA figures out how to explore these mysterious characteristics from afar using binoculars under its planetary protection protocols, potential human explorers may have to admire them.
Mars is a planet mostly shaped by wind these days, as its atmosphere thinned with water evaporating. But we can see extensive proof of past water, such as “ghost dunes” regions discovered in the basin of Noctis Labyrinthus and Hellas. Researchers claim these areas used to hold tens of meters high dunes. Later, lava or water flooded the dunes, preserving their bases as the tops eroded away.
Old dunes like these indicate how winds used to flow on ancient Mars, which in turn provides some clues to climate scientists about the Red Planet’s ancient environment. There might be microbes hiding in the sheltered regions of these dunes, safe from the radiation and wind that would otherwise sweep them away.