In a remarkable discovery announced at a recent conference in Texas, scientists have uncovered a colossal volcano and a potential buried ice sheet on Mars, hidden in plain sight for decades in one of the planet’s most iconic regions.

The volcano, provisionally named “Noctis volcano,” is located near the equator and has been captured in photographs by various spacecraft orbiting the Red Planet since the 1970s. However, due to its deeply eroded state, it remained unnoticed until now.

Noctis volcano, which stands at an impressive elevation of 29,600 feet and spans a width of 280 miles, is situated at the boundary between two of Mars’ most striking features: the intricate Noctis Labyrinthus (Labyrinth of the Night) and the awe-inspiring canyons of Valles Marineris (Mariner Valleys). The immense size of the volcano and the complexity of its features suggest that it has been active for an extended period, shaping the Martian landscape over time.

What makes this discovery particularly exciting is the presence of a thin, recent volcanic deposit on the volcano’s southeastern side, beneath which scientists believe glacial ice may still exist. The combination of a giant volcano and a potential ice glacier opens up new avenues for studying Mars’ geological history, searching for signs of life, and planning future robotic and human exploration missions.

Dr. Pascal Lee, the lead author of the study, explains that the volcanic nature of the region was revealed through various clues, such as elevated plateaus, gentle slopes, and the presence of a remnant caldera—the remains of a collapsed volcanic crater that once contained a lava lake. Additionally, the area is known to host a diverse array of hydrated minerals, which have long been thought to have a volcanic origin.

The study also reports the discovery of a large area within the volcano’s perimeter that features numerous low, rounded, and elongated mounds resembling blisters. This “blistered terrain” is believed to be a field of “rootless cones”, formed by explosive steam venting or swelling as hot volcanic materials settled on a surface rich in water or ice.

Noctis volcano has undergone a long and complex history of modification, likely due to a combination of fracturing, thermal erosion, and glacial erosion. As the region surrounding the volcano uplifted, lavas began to rise through various parts of the structure, causing the removal of buried ice and the collapse of entire sections. Subsequent glaciations further shaped the canyons and valleys within the volcano.

While many aspects of Noctis volcano remain shrouded in mystery, such as its exact age and whether it is still volcanically active, the discovery has already generated excitement among the scientific community.

The potential presence of near-surface glacial ice in a relatively warm region near the equator makes the site an attractive target for future exploration, as it could provide a source of water for hydration and rocket fuel production.

Dr. Lee emphasizes the unique combination of factors that make Noctis volcano an exceptional site for scientific study and exploration. Its ancient nature, complex history of heat interacting with water and ice, and potential for harboring life make it a prime location for understanding Mars’ evolution and searching for signs of extraterrestrial life.


SETI Institute | Pascal Lee and Sourabh Shubham, Large eroded volcano complex and buried glacier ice in eastern Noctis Labyrinthus: evidence for recent volcanism and glaciation near Mars’ equator. 55th LPSC (2024) #2745

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