What is Olympus Mons?

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Scientists recently discovered frost on Mars' tallest volcano, Olympus Mons, revealing an active water cycle on the Red Planet.

About Olympus Mons:

  • It is a shield volcano located in Mars’ western hemisphere.
  • It is the highest point on Mars and the largest known volcano in the solar system.
    • It is 16 miles (24 kilometers) high, which makes it about three times higher than Mt. Everest.
    • It is also very wide (340 miles or 550 kilometers) and covers an area larger than the entire chain of Hawaiian Islands.
    • In contrast, the largest volcano on Earth, Hawaii’s Mauna Loa, is 120 kilometers across and 9 kilometers high.
  • It is some 3.5 billion years old, which means the volcano formed early on in Mars’ history.
  • It is a very flat mountain which slopes by only 2 to 5 degrees.
  • Its summit is marked by a caldera, a large depression formed by volcanic activity, spanning 50 miles (80 kilometers) wide.
    • The summit caldera consists of several overlapping pits. These pits were created by different eruptive phases.
    • In contrast, many Earth-based volcanoes typically feature a single, less complex caldera.

Key Facts about Shield Volcano:

  • They are the largest volcanoes on Earth.
  • They do not form soaring mountains with conical peaks like composite volcanoes. Instead, they are broad volcanoes with gentle slopes. 
  • They are almost exclusively basalt, a type of lava that is very fluid when erupted.
    • Because basalt has a low viscosity, it can flow on the surface better. So, when these types of volcanoes erupt, lava flows outwards at large distances.
  • They are built by repeated eruptions that occurred intermittently over vast periods of time.
  • Eruptions at shield volcanoes are only explosive if water somehow gets into the vent; otherwise, they are characterized by low-explosivity fountaining that forms cinder cones and spatter cones at the vent.

The Hawaiian shield volcanoes are the most famous examples.

Q1: What is Frost?

Frost is water vapor, or water in gas form, that becomes solid. Frost usually forms on objects like cars, windows, and plants that are outside in air that is saturated, or filled, with moisture.

Source: 1,50,000 tonnes of water frost found on Mars' tallest volcano: What it means