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Exploring Martian mysteries in lceland's volcanoes

By Katie Pavid

Learn how Iceland's volcanic terrain is shaping the way scientists explore the surface of Mars.

Museum researchers Dr Joe Michalski and Dr Robin Armstrong travelled to the Askja region of Iceland to study its volcanic landscapes and rock formations. The wilderness of Iceland's central highlands provides a natural laboratory, where scientists can observe the interaction of volcanic processes with glaciers and water.

Lessons learned from these landscapes can be used to help interpret orbital images of the surface of Mars. They also allow scientists to explore whether similar conditions may have existed on the red planet billions of years ago.

During the expedition, Michalski and Armstrong examined an area of pillow lava: volcanic rock formed when a volcano erupts underneath an ocean, ice sheet or glacier, causing hot lava to cool quickly.

Armstrong also explored a lava tube, a cave-like channel formed by lava moving underneath the hardened surface of a flow. Tubes like this demonstrate the complex and turbulent nature of lava.

A diverse range of volcanic landforms and textures have been identified on Mars. By understanding how and why these formations developed on Earth, scientists can learn about the geological workings of other planets.

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