When looking at Mars and other parts of our solar system, planetary scientists are faced with a critical question: if what I’m looking at is similar to something on Earth, did it form the same way it does here? In other words, if something on Mars looks like a terrestrial lava flow, is it actually made of igneous rock or something else?
To tackle this question, a team of researchers explored mud flows in a pressure chamber under both Earth-like and Martian conditions. They found that mud flowed quite freely on Earth, but with Martian temperatures and pressures, the flows resembled lava flows like those found in Hawaii or the Galapagos Islands.
On Mars, mud begins boiling once it reaches the low pressure of the surface. This boiling cools it, causing the outer layer of the mud to freeze into an increasingly viscous crust, which changes how the mud flows. In this regard, it’s very similar to cooling lava, even though the heat loss mechanisms are different. (Video and research credit: P. Brož et al.; image credit: N. Sharp; see also P. Brož; submitted by Kam-Yung Soh)