WTF Fun Fact 13378 – Volcanoes of Mars

The volcanoes of Mars are part of the planet’s dramatic landscape. Mars is also home to the solar system’s largest known volcano – Olympus Mons.

The many volcanoes of Mars

Mars’ volcanic landscape provides valuable insights into its geological history and the processes that have shaped its surface. The volcanoes of Mars have played a significant role in shaping the planet’s topography and its potential for supporting past or present life.

A variety of volcano types, including shield volcanoes, volcanic domes, and stratovolcanoes, exist on Mars. Shield volcanoes, such as Olympus Mons, exhibit a broad, low-profile shape and gentle slopes. Successive eruptions of fluid lava gradually build up the volcano’s size, facilitated by the low gravity of Mars, resulting in exceptionally large shield volcanoes that dominate the planet’s surface.

In addition to shield volcanoes, other volcanic structures on Mars provide unique insights. Volcanic domes form as viscous lava accumulates around a vent, creating a steep and rounded top. Scattered across the Martian landscape, these structures offer clues about past volcanic activity and its nature.

Olympus Mons

Olympus Mons stands as the largest volcano in the solar system. Its colossal size and unique characteristics make it a captivating subject of scientific study. Olympus Mons is a shield volcano, formed by repeated volcanic eruptions over millions of years. Unlike the steep-sided stratovolcanoes found on Earth, shield volcanoes are characterized by their broad, gently sloping profile.

Olympus Mons reaches an astonishing height of approximately 13.6 miles and spans a diameter of about 370 miles. This dwarfs Earth’s largest volcano, Mauna Loa in Hawaii.

The surface of Olympus Mons reveals intricate lava flow patterns, resulting from multiple eruptions over time. The volcano’s low topographic relief and extensive lava flows contribute to its shield-like shape.

An explosive field of research

While Mars is believed to be geologically less active than Earth, evidence suggests that volcanic activity on the planet occurred in the past and may even persist to a limited extent today. The discovery of volcanic features and geological clues shed light on the planet’s volcanic history.

Volcanic eruptions on Mars have had a significant impact on its environment. Outpourings of lava, release of volcanic gases, and ash deposition have influenced the composition of the Martian atmosphere and potentially affected the planet’s climate.

The study of Martian volcanoes provides scientists with a deeper understanding of the processes that shape rocky planets. By comparing volcanic activity on Mars to that on Earth and other celestial bodies, researchers can unravel the underlying mechanisms driving volcanic eruptions and their implications for planetary evolution.

 WTF fun facts

Source: Olympus Mons – NASA Mars Exploration

WTF Fun Fact 13136 – Snow in the Desert

In 2011, Chile’s Atacama Desert in Chile got a rare snowfall. In fact, it received 32 inches of snow as the result of a very rare cold front from Antarctica. This wasn’t the only instance of snow in the desert, but it’s interesting and bizarre since the Atacama Desert is one of the driest places on Earth.

What caused snow in the desert?

According to the Washington Post (cited below), “The uniqueness of this event is that the Atacama Desert is a 600-mile-long plateau known to be one of, if not the driest and most sterile deserts on Earth. Because moisture is blocked from the east by the Andes mountains and from the west by the Chilean Coast Range, the average rainfall is just 0.04 per year and skies are almost always cloud-free.”

The 2011 snowfall occurred when an Antarctic cold front (the strongest in 30 years) broke through the region’s rain and snow shadow. It is wildly cold there (with an elevation of 10,000 feet), but it just doesn’t typically get moisture).

Other parts of Chile got a crippling 8 feet of snow, cutting off access to the area and stranding residents without supplies. The Washington Post quoted one regional governor as saying, “In four days we have had four months’ worth of snowfall.”

It’s so dry in this desert that Atacama’s weather stations had never even recorded rain, and “research suggests that some identifiable river beds have been dry for 120,000 years.”

What’s special about the Atacama Desert?

If you’ve heard of the Atacama desert, it might be related to any interest you have in NASA and space exploration. The desert is used to simulate Mars, and NASA uses it to test Mars mission instruments.

It’s also been a movie set because it simply doesn’t look like Earth. For example, it was used in Space Odyssey.  WTF fun facts

Source: “Rare snowfall on Earth’s driest desert in Chile” — Washington Post

WTF Fun Fact 12589 – Lockheed Martin’s Metric Problem

In a move that John Logsdon, director of George Washington University’s space policy institute, called “so dumb,” engineers at Lockheed Martin made a math error that cost millions.

Sloppy errors had plagued the U.S. space program for years by the time it all took place in 1999, but this mistake was one for the record books.

NASA’s rockets were being built by engineering powerhouse Lockheed Martin before being sent to NASA. Meanwhile, the Mars mission launched in early 1999 was run by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. In the nine months between launch and mishap, no one had noticed that the math for the Orbiter’s orbiting program was off.

The LA Times explained:

“A navigation team at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory used the metric system of millimeters and meters in its calculations, while Lockheed Martin Astronautics in Denver, which designed and built the spacecraft, provided crucial acceleration data in the English system of inches, feet, and pounds.
As a result, JPL engineers mistook acceleration readings measured in English units of pound-seconds for a metric measure of force called newton-seconds.”

Instead of landing on Mars, the Orbiter entered the planet’s atmosphere incorrectly and burned up upon entry, costing roughly $125 million.

The Times went on to explain why people were pretty fed up at this point:

“The loss of the Mars probe was the latest in a series of major spaceflight failures this year that destroyed billions of dollars worth of research, military and communications satellites or left them spinning in useless orbits. Earlier this month, an independent national security review concluded that many of those failures stemmed from an overemphasis on cost-cutting, mismanagement, and poor quality control at Lockheed Martin, which manufactured several of the malfunctioning rockets.”

The basic discrepancy wasn’t all Lockheed Martin’s fault. Engineers at the two facilities had been exchanging data for months and no one ever noticed the numbers were off.

There was a shot at redemption that year as the Mars Polar Lander was scheduled to set down on December 3, 1999, on the frozen terrain of Mars’ south polar cap.

Unfortunately, it crashed into the planet’s surface along with $165 million of hopes and dreams. – WTF fun facts

Source: “Mars Probe Lost Due to Simple Math Error” — Los Angeles Times