Explosive Volcanoes Spawned Mysterious Martian Rock Formation

Explosive volcanic eruptions that shot jets of hot ash, rock and gas skyward are the likely source of a mysterious Martian rock formation, a new study finds. The new finding could add to scientists’ understanding of Mars’s interior and its past potential for habitability, according to the study’s authors.

The Medusae Fossae Formation is a massive, unusual deposit of soft rock near Mars’s equator, with undulating hills and abrupt mesas. Scientists first observed the Medusae Fossae with NASA’s Mariner spacecraft in the 1960s but were perplexed as to how it formed.

Now, new research suggests the formation was deposited during explosive volcanic eruptions on the Red Planet more than 3 billion years ago. The formation is about one-fifth as large as the continental United States and 100 times more massive than the largest explosive volcanic deposit on Earth, making it the largest known explosive volcanic deposit in the solar system, according to the study’s authors.

“This is a massive deposit, not only on a Martian scale, but also in terms of the solar system, because we do not know of any other deposit that is like this,” said Lujendra Ojha, a planetary scientist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and lead author of the new study published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets, a journal of the American Geophysical Union.

Formation of the Medusae Fossae would have marked a pivotal point in Mars’s history, according to the study’s authors. The eruptions that created the deposit could have spewed massive amounts of climate-altering gases into Mars’s atmosphere and ejected enough water to cover Mars in a global ocean more than 9 centimeters (4 inches) thick, Ojha said.

Greenhouse gases exhaled during the eruptions that spawned the Medusae Fossae could have warmed Mars’s surface enough for water to remain liquid at its surface, but toxic volcanic gases like hydrogen sulfide and sulfur dioxide would have altered the chemistry of Mars’s surface and atmosphere. Both processes would have affected Mars’s potential for habitability, Ojha said.

Determining the source of the rock

The Medusae Fossae Formation consists of hills and mounds of sedimentary rock straddling Mars’s equator. Sedimentary rock forms when rock dust and debris accumulate on a planet’s surface and cement over time.

Scientists have known about the Medusae Fossae for decades, but were unsure whether wind, water, ice or volcanic eruptions deposited rock debris in that location.

Previous radar measurements of Mars’s surface suggested the Medusae Fossae had an unusual composition, but scientists were unable to determine whether it was made of highly porous rock or a mixture of rock and ice. In the new study, Ojha and a colleague used gravity data from various Mars orbiter spacecraft to measure the Medusae Fossae’s density for the first time. They found the rock is unusually porous: it’s about two-thirds as dense as the rest of the Martian crust. They also used radar and gravity data in combination to show the Medusae Fossae’s density cannot be explained by the presence of ice, which is much less dense than rock.

Because the rock is so porous, it had to have been deposited by explosive volcanic eruptions, according to the researchers. Volcanoes erupt in part because gases like carbon dioxide and water vapor dissolved in magma force the molten rock to rise to the surface. Magma containing lots of gas explodes skyward, shooting jets of ash and rock into the atmosphere.

Ash from these explosions plummets to the ground and streams downhill. After enough time has passed, the ash cements into rock, and Ojha suspects this is what formed the Medusae Fossae. As much as half of the soft rock originally deposited during the eruptions has eroded away, leaving behind the hills and valleys seen in the Medusae Fossae today.

Understanding Mars’s interior

The new findings suggest the Martian interior is more complex than scientists originally thought, according to Ojha. Scientists know Mars has some water and carbon dioxide in its crust that allow explosive volcanic eruptions to happen on its surface, but the planet’s interior would have needed massive amounts of volatile gases — substances that become gas at low temperatures — to create a deposit of this size, he said.

“If you were to distribute the Medusae Fossae globally, it would make a 9.7-meter (32-foot) thick layer.” Ojha said. “Given the sheer magnitude of this deposit, it really is incredible because it implies that the magma was not only rich in volatiles and also that it had to be volatile-rich for long periods of time.”

The new study shows the promise of gravity surveys in interpreting Mars’s rock record, according to Kevin Lewis, a planetary scientist at Johns Hopkins University and co-author of the new study. “Future gravity surveys could help distinguish between ice, sediments and igneous rocks in the upper crust of the planet,” Lewis said.

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Best Evidence Of Rare Black Hole Captured

Scientists have been able to prove the existence of small black holes and those that are super-massive but the existence of an elusive type of black hole, known as intermediate-mass black holes (IMBHs) is hotly debated. New research coming out of the Space Science Center at the University of New Hampshire shows the strongest evidence to date that this middle-of-the-road black hole exists, by serendipitously capturing one in action devouring an encountering star.

“We feel very lucky to have spotted this object with a significant amount of high quality data, which helps pinpoint the mass of the black hole and understand the nature of this spectacular event,” says Dacheng Lin, a research assistant professor at UNH’s Space Science Center and the study’s lead author. “Earlier research, including our own work, saw similar events, but they were either caught too late or were too far away.”

In their study, published in Nature Astronomy, researchers used satellite imaging to detect for the first time this significant telltale sign of activity. They found an enormous multiwavelength radiation flare from the outskirts of a distant galaxy. The brightness of the flare decayed over time exactly as expected by a star disrupting, or being devoured, by the black hole. In this case, the star was disrupted in October 2003 and the radiation it created decayed over the next decade. The distribution of emitted photons over the energy depends on the size of the black hole. This data provides one of the very few robust ways to weight, or determine the size of, the black hole.

Researchers used data from a trio of orbiting X-ray telescopes, NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and Swift Satellite as well as ESA’s XMM-Newton, to find the multiwavelength radiation flares that helped identify the otherwise uncommon IMBHs. The characteristic of a long flare offers evidence of a star being torn apart and is known as a tidal disruption event (TDE). Tidal forces, due to the intense gravity from the black hole, can destroy an object — such as a star — that wanders too close. During a TDE, some of the stellar debris is flung outward at high speeds, while the rest falls toward the black hole. As it travels inward, and is ingested by the black hole, the material heats up to millions of degrees and generates a distinct X-ray flare. According to the researchers, these types of flares, can easily reach the maximum luminosity and are one of the most effective way to detect IMBHs.

“From the theory of galaxy formation, we expect a lot of wandering intermediate-mass black holes in star clusters,” said Lin. “But there are very, very few that we know of, because they are normally unbelievably quiet and very hard to detect and energy bursts from encountering stars being shredded happen so rarely.”

Because of the very low occurrence rate of such star-triggered outbursts for an IMBH, the scientists believe that their discovery implies that there could be many IMBHs lurking in a dormant state in galaxy peripheries across the local universe.

At Least 4 Dead, 375 Injured As Powerful Quake Hits Western Japan

Four people are dead and 375 others injured after an estimated magnitude-6.1 earthquake struck a wide area of western Japan including Osaka, Kyoto, Hyogo and Shiga prefectures on June 18.

According to the Osaka Prefectural Government and prefectural police, Rina Miyake, a 9-year-old girl, was crushed under a falling wall outside Takatsuki Municipal Juei Elementary School. Minoru Yasui, 80, was also crushed under a collapsed wall in Osaka’s Higashiyodogawa Ward. They were pronounced dead at hospital. Motochika Goto, 85, also died in the Osaka Prefecture city of Ibaraki. A woman in her 80s was also confirmed dead after she was crushed by a chest of drawers in Takatsuki, Osaka. At least 259 people were injured in Osaka, Kyoto, Hyogo, Shiga and Mie prefectures.

Toshiyuki Matsumori, director of the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA)’s Earthquake and Tsunami Observation Division, warned at a news conference on the morning of June 18 that up to lower 6 earthquakes could hit the area over the next week or so.

The temblor hit at around 7:58 a.m., measuring a lower 6 on Japan’s 7-point seismic intensity scale in Osaka’s Kita Ward and the Osaka Prefecture cities of Takatsuki, Hirakata, Ibaraki and Minoo, the JMA said. The quake caused major disruptions of train services across the Kansai region, affecting many commuters during rush hour.

A total of 20 fires broke out in the city of Osaka, the Osaka Prefecture cities of Takatsuki, Suita and Minoo, and the Hyogo Prefecture city of Amagasaki, the Fire and Disaster Management Agency said.

Tokaido Shinkansen bullet train services were suspended between JR Maibara and Shin-Osaka stations, and Sanyo Shinkansen Line services were stopped between Shin-Osaka and Okayama stations. Tokaido Shinkansen operations were resumed at 12:50 p.m., but trains are traveling at reduced speeds in the affected section. Services on the Sanyo Shinkansen Line were restarted by 2:58 p.m.

Many local train services in Osaka, Kyoto, Nara and Hyogo prefectures have been halted due to the quake.

Runways at Kansai International Airport were closed at 8 a.m. but were reopened after no problems were found. No serious damage to its terminal building has been confirmed. An air conditioner suspended from the ceiling on the second floor of Osaka International Airport’s north terminal fell down after the quake, but nobody was injured.

Nuclear reactors in Oi, Mihama and Takahama in Fukui Prefecture are operating normally, according to their operators. According to Kansai Electric Power Co., a total of 170,000 households were without power at one point.

The earthquake, with a focus about 13 kilometers underground in northern Osaka Prefecture, registered a lower 6 on the Japanese intensity scale in northern Osaka Prefecture, the meteorological agency said. The areas that felt that intensity include Osaka’s Kita Ward and the cities of Takatsuki, Hirakata, Ibaraki and Minoo, also in Osaka Prefecture, according to public broadcaster NHK.

The JMA said that the earthquake’s intensity in the southern area of Kyoto Prefecture hit an upper 5 on the same scale, while parts of Shiga, Hyogo and Nara prefectures experienced a lower 5.

The quake did not cause tsunami, the agency said

Guatemala Ends Search for Volcano Victims with 200 Still Missing

Guatemala has ended its search for victims in the zone that suffered the most deaths and injuries from the Fuego volcano eruption, its disaster agency said.

At least 110 people died and 197 are still missing after violent eruptions that began two weeks ago, according to disaster agency CONRED.

“The search efforts are permanently suspended in the towns San Miguel Los Lotes and El Rodeo in the Escuintla municipality … the zone is uninhabitable and high risk,” CONRED said in a statement on Sunday.

The Fuego volcano, whose name means “Fire” in Spanish, is emitting four or five minor explosions each day and shooting columns of ash up to 4,700 meters above sea level, CONRED said.

Escuintla is operating 12 shelters for nearly 2,800 people displaced from homes that were swallowed by ash and dirt, while more than 770 people were staying in shelters in nearby areas.

Some survivors lost nearly all members of extended families after the volcano sent fast-moving currents of dust, lava and gas down its slopes in its greatest eruption in four decades.

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‘Slow Earthquakes’ on San Andreas Fault Increase Risk of Large Quake

Geologists have long thought that the central section of California’s famed San Andreas Fault – from San Juan Bautista southward to Parkfield, a distance of about 80 miles – has a steady creeping movement that provides a safe release of energy.

This crackling on the central San Andreas during the past several decades, appears to reduce the chance of a big quake that ruptures the entire fault from north to south.

However new research by two Arizona State University geophysicists shows that the Earth movements along this central section have not been smooth and steady, as previously thought.

Instead, the activity has been a sequence of small stick-and-slip movements – sometimes called “slow earthquakes” – that release energy over a period of months. Although these slow earthquakes pass unnoticed by people, the researchers say they can trigger large destructive quakes in their surroundings. One such quake was the magnitude 6 event that shook Parkfield in 2004.

“What looked like steady, continuous creep was actually made of episodes of acceleration and deceleration along the fault,” says Mostafa Khoshmanesh, a graduate research assistant in ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration (SESE). He is the lead author of a Nature Geoscience paper reporting on the research.

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JUST IN: Iceland’s Largest Volcano Hit with Larger Quakes in Swarm

An earthquake swarm is currently engulfing Bardarbunga with two of its largest quakes measuring 4.1 and 4.9 magnitude. The latter earthquake is the largest since 2015 when Bardarbunga finished erupting after almost a year.

However, Iceland’s Met Office said there is no cause for concern at the time being. Bryndís Ýr Gísladóttir, natural hazard expert at the Iceland Met Office, said, “There are no signs of any volcanic unrest as yet.”

If the huge volcano were to blow, it could cause travel chaos across Europe and the Atlantic – much like its compatriot the Eyjafjallajökull volcano did in 2010. The Bardarbunga volcano is 6590 feet tall and lies hidden beneath the Vatnajökull glacier. This makes it increasingly difficult to monitor beyond a few acoustic measurements.

Geophysicists currently studying the volcano believe recent activity is the result of the volcano filling its magma chamber in preparation ahead of an eruption. The 2010 Eyjafjallajökull volcano eruption left 10 million air passengers stranded after grounding flights all around the world and cost the European economy around £4billion. Experts have stated if the Bardarbunga volcano was to come to life it would cause problems on a similar scale.

Earthquakes can suggest an imminent volcano explosion, as the magma moves through the cracks of the magma chambers. This causes pressure on the surrounding rock which causes the earthquakes, which are then tracked.

 

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