If it looks like a volcanic eruption and acts like a volcanic eruption, is it a volcanic eruption … even if it’s on Mars, which hasn’t had an eruption at this particular volcano in at least 50 million years and hasn’t had a lava flow anywhere in at least 2 million years? That question is currently being hotly debated by astronomers and conspiracy theorists after many people looking at recent pictures from the European Space Agency’s Mars webcam on board its Mars Express orbiter spotted what looks like a volcanic plume over Arsia Mons, a volcano on the Tharsis bulge near the Martian equator. Is it a volcano or is it something else? Is it being covered up or is it something else?
Let’s start by saying that no one questions that something DID happen on Mars over the Arsia Mons volcano and it WAS photographed by the webcam on the ESA’s Mars Express orbiter. The pictures being referenced appear to be from 9-5-2018 to 10-20-2018. Further investigation by Forbes found that NASA’s 2001 Mars Odyssey mission also picked up clouds over Arsia Mons in September 2018. Those photos didn’t cause the same controversy in the conspiracy community since the looked more like fog than a volcanic plume.
Speaking of the conspiracy community, multiple sites picked up the photographs, called it a volcanic eruption and speculated it was being covered up with their evidence being the recent shutdown of the solar observatory in New Mexico, shutdowns of other observatories and the conspiracy theorists’ inherent distrust of NASA. Those shutdowns have been explained (the one in New Mexico was due to a criminal investigation and possible threats) and one wonders why a ‘solar’ observatory would be shut down over a Martian eruption. The answer is point three – they don’t trust NASA.
For those who do trust NASA, at least occasionally, it sent Tanya Harrison, Director of Research for Arizona State University’s Space Technology and Science Initiative and a Science Team Collaborator on the Mars Exploration Rover (MER) Opportunity, to Twitter to explain the plume.