Technology Laboratory experiment: Mud flows like lava on Mars

Laboratory experiment: Mud flows like lava on Mars

Updated May 20, 2020, 5:05 p.m.

Scientists have found an important detail about Mars: The surface of the red planet is not only shaped by volcanoes, but also by mud volcanism. To find this out, the international team of researchers simulated conditions on Mars.

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Mud can flow on Mars like lava on Earth. This is shown by laboratory experiments by an international team that simulated the conditions on the Red Planet.

The results published in the journal “Nature Geoscience” support the idea that the surface of Mars was not only shaped by ordinary volcanoes, but also by mud volcanism.

Large amounts of water once flowed on young Mars. This can still be seen today from the dried-up river beds and lakes. Under certain circumstances, the water-rich sediments that formed in the process could have been liquefied in the Martian soil and pressed to the surface under pressure, as the German Aerospace Center (DLR) involved in the investigations explained in a statement. This, based on the rise of magma, so-called mud volcanism is well documented in many places on earth.

Mud behaves like lava in the model

In order to find out how such sludge behaves on Mars, the team led by research leader Petr Brož from the Czech Academy of Sciences simulated the conditions on our neighboring planet. In freezing cold and 150 times thinner atmosphere than on Earth, the scientists had a thin mixture of sludge spilled into a vacuum chamber.

This showed an unexpected behavior that is reminiscent of certain forms of lava on earth: The surface of the mud solidified due to freezing and formed a crust, which was finally broken up again by the liquid underneath, so that mud tongues repeatedly formed, similar to lava tongues.

Even mud is different on Mars

“The mud flows under the low atmospheric pressure on Mars in a similar way to the so-called so-called Pahoehoe or Knitting Lava flows, which are known from the large volcanoes in Hawaii or Iceland,” explains Brož in the DLR release.

“Our experiments show that even a process that is supposed to be as simple as the flow of mud, which many of us have known from childhood since our childhood, would be very different on Mars.”

The experiments confirm the long-held assumption that mud can actually flow on Mars and form surface formations that are reminiscent of lava flows.

“We now know that when analyzing some flow phenomena, we have to think not only of lava, but also of sludge,” emphasizes co-author Ernst Hauber from DLR. The results could also play a role for other celestial bodies, such as the ice moons in the outer solar system, in which so-called cryovolcanoes spew liquid water instead of mud or magma. (awa / dpa)


Mars, Jupiter, Saturn: probes have been sending impressive pictures of the planets back to Earth for decades.

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