First observed in the 1960s using the Mariner spacecraft, the Medusae Fossae Formation (MFF) has long been a subject of numerous speculations. Some of them went as far as stating that it could be a spacecraft of extraterrestrial beings. However, thanks to a study conducted by a group of scientists at John Hopkins University in Baltimore, we got much closer to explaining the origin of this mysterious rock formation rising well above the surface of Mars.
Volcanic activity as a main factor
According to a study published in the Journal of Geophysical Research, the giant rock formation could be a result of volcanic activity on Mars, which took place more than three billion years ago. Although we might need more research in order to prove this theory, all we know so far could be explained by volcanic, eolian and ice-related mechanisms. Using the data from spacecraft orbiting Mars, the scientists were able to measure the density of the MFF.
The formation with its porous nature is about two-thirds as dense as the rest of the Red Planet’s surface, which could be a result of explosive volcanic eruptions.
The MFF and its effect on the Martian environment
This enormous volcanic deposit is the largest, not only on Mars, but most likely in the entire solar system. To put it into perspective, the MFF is one hundred times more massive than the largest volcanic formation of this kind on Earth. When it comes to its size, the MFF is about one-fifth of the U.S.’s territory.
Considering the large size of the MFF, the eruptions that created this rock formation must have had a strong effect on the atmosphere and hydrosphere of Mars. While the massive amounts of gases, including carbon dioxide, were released during explosions possibly altering the climate of Mars, a large enough quantity of water was also ejected, covering the whole surface of Mars with an ocean at least nine centimeters thick.