Extraterrestrial Volcanoes

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A volcano is defined, by NASA, as an opening on the surface of a planet or moon that allows material warmer than its surroundings to escape from its interior. While volcanoes are a generally thought of as a feature of Earth, there are plenty of other planets and even moons with a range of extinct, dormant, and active volcanoes in our solar system, and presumably in others as well. Once a feature has been officially defined as a volcano, it is then further classified into one of three designations, mons, tholus, and patera, based on their external presentation as defined by the International Astronomical Union, or IAU.

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Montes are any mountains, while tholi are generally hills or small domical mountains, and paterae are irregular or complex craters with scalloped edges. The term volcano is pretty vague and many different variations on the feature can be found on a variety of different celestial objects throughout the solar system.

Terrestrial Volcanoes

There are four main types of volcanoes on Earth: cinder cone, composite, shield, and lava dome. Cinder cones are the simplest and happen when, over time, the lava that is spewed into the air rains back down and forms a cone with a bowl-like crater at the top. These volcanoes rarely peak much higher than 1,000 feet. Composite volcanoes are also known as stratovolcanoes and can reach thousands of meters tall. They have a system that allows for magma to be pulled from the mantle itself up to the surface, and often erupt violently, like Mount Saint Helens. Shield volcanoes are large and broad and resemble shields from above hence the name. The lava that pours out of these is thin, which allows it to travel easily down the shallow sides of the volcano, building up into many layers over thousands of small eruptions. Lava domes, or volcanic domes, are also caused by build up of lava over time, but this lava is thick, and the domes grow from the lava expanding within. These types are generally more specific to terrestrial volcanoes, but they also serve as a base point for understanding extraterrestrial volcanoes, especially shield volcanoes.

Planetary Volcanoes


Volcanoes can be found on all four of the terrestrial planets, but most of those found outside of the Earth are presumed to be dormant or extinct. Mars hosts the largest known volcano in the solar system, Olympus Mons, which is 624 km wide, which is comparable to the size of the state of Arizona, and 25 km high, whereas Mount Everest is a little under 9 km. Most volcanoes on Mars are significantly larger than those on Earth, which can be attributed to its lack of tectonic activity. Terrestrial volcanoes are created by the shifting, and subsequent crashing,

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