Coney Clues To Life On Mars

Lava cones spotted on Mars provide the next best thing to ET-evidence of water.

Even though they weren't built by little green men, cones on Mars offer more clues that the Red Planet may not be as hostile to life as once thought. The structures appear to have been formed in the presence of water, the critical ingredient to life on Earth.

Located between two martian volcanoes in regions with channels and other signatures of water, the formations look like "rootless cones," which form on our own planet when scalding-hot lava flows over waterlogged soil. The water quickly turns to steam and bursts out of the ground and through the lava, which cools in the form of a cone.

possible dendritic (water-carved) channels on Mars
Possible Martian dendritic (water-carved) channels as photographed by the Mars Global Surveyor: other evidence for past water flow on Mars.
Photo: NASA/JPL/Malin Space Science Systems
View of Mars from Hubble Space Telescope
The Hubble Space Telescope’s sharpest view of Mars. Photo: Space Telescope Sciences Institute



Marte Valles region of Mars

The Marte Valles region of Mars photographed by the Mars Global Surveyor shows cone structures that may have formed by super-heated water welling up from below.
Photo: NASA/JPL/Malin Space Science Systems

The cones on Mars, which formed within the last ten million years, pepper its equator-a region that, if it had any water at all, was thought to have evaporated hundreds of millions of years ago. If these newly spotted structures are, indeed, rootless cones, the water source that helped create them should still be there, perhaps only 10 meters below the martian surface. NASA's current Mars Odyssey mission will be searching for subterranean water reservoirs.

view from Mars Pathfinder Spacecraft of suspected floodplain on Mars
View from the Mars Pathfinder Spacecraft showing a suspected floodplain on Mars.
Photo: NASA/JPL/Malin Space Science Systems

Mars is currently closer to Earth than it has been in 13 years, a mere 42 million miles away. Look for it as a distinctly orange star in the southeast after sunset, or southwest before dawn.

Photos NASA/JPL/Malin Space Science Systems