Olympus Mons on Mars

The highest peak in our solar system resides on which planet?

And the answer: Mars.

Photo credit: NASA. 

Olympus Mons is a potentially active volcano that is nearly 3 times taller than our own Mount Everest. Scientists believe that the volcano was formed over billions of years, as the lower surface gravity of the red planet, combined with higher eruption rates, allowed for the lava on Mars to pile up.    

Olympus Mons is a shield volcano, meaning that it was created by lava slowly flowing down the sides. This massive shield volcano is almost entirely created by basalt lava flows, which have pooled over time to create Olympus Mons' staggering 16 miles of vertical height. Olympus Mons is so large that it has been recognized as a separate feature on telescopes as far back as the 19th century.

However, it wasn't until 1971, when NASA's Mariner I spacecraft arrived in orbit around Mars that Mount Olympus was confirmed to be a volcano. Astronomers noted that the smooth slope of the volcano must be a result of its immense size, as the lava flow would have had immense surface area to cover on its downhill trajectory.

Scientists believe that Olympus Mons last erupted around 4 billion years ago. Recent surveys of the planet reveal that the surrounding rock is cold, meaning lava is not close to the surface and its status is not currently active. Due to this fact, the volcano is largely considered to be dormant. However, scientists also posit that Olympus Mons is still a fairly young volcano from a geologic standpoint, estimating it to be only a few million years old. With this in mind, there is still a chance that the volcano is active and could erupt at some point in the future.

Did you know?

Mars’ atmosphere is so thin that the volcano’s peak actually pokes out above it, meaning that if one were to hike to the summit of Olympus Mons, they would hike into space!

Learn more about Olympus Mons here.

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