Special Reports

Athabasca Valles, Mars: A Lava-Draped Channel System

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Science  21 Sep 2007:
Vol. 317, Issue 5845, pp. 1709-1711
DOI: 10.1126/science.1143315

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Athabasca Valles is a young outflow channel system on Mars that may have been carved by catastrophic water floods. However, images acquired by the High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment camera onboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft reveal that Athabasca Valles is now entirely draped by a thin layer of solidified lava—the remnant of a once-swollen river of molten rock. The lava erupted from a fissure, inundated the channels, and drained downstream in geologically recent times. Purported ice features in Athabasca Valles and its distal basin, Cerberus Palus, are actually composed of this lava. Similar volcanic processes may have operated in other ostensibly fluvial channels, which could explain in part why the landers sent to investigate sites of ancient flooding on Mars have predominantly found lava at the surface instead.

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