Question n°5

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Olympus Mons

Olympus Mons, located on the planet Mars, is by far the tallest volcano in the solar system, rising higher than three Mount Everests and spanning the width of the entire Hawaiian island chain. It is the largest of the major Tharsis volcanoes, rising 15.5 miles (25 km) and stretching over nearly 340 miles (550 km) east-west [1].

The European Space Agency (ESA) started a space exploration mission “Mars Express” in 2003. The Orbiter has been successfully performing scientific measurements since early 2004 and due to the valuable science return and the highly flexible mission profile, Mars Express has been granted five mission extensions, the latest until 2014.

The mantle of Mars is possibly cooling by 30-40°C every billion years. Based on satellite observations of the composition of the planet’s volcanic rocks, researchers from CNRS and the Université Paul Sabatier in Toulouse reached this conclusion after reconstructing for the first time the thermal evolution of the planet over the past 4 billion years. These values indicate that cooling is slower than on Earth (70-100°C per billion years) and highlight the specific nature of our planet, where thermal evolution is affected by plate tectonics. These findings are published in the journal Nature (advanced online publication of 6 April 2011) [2].

Dr. Francois Forget who is Director of Research at the CNRS and the Head of the Solar System Department at the Institute Pierre Simon Laplace (France) will present the exploration and the story of planet Mars on Wednesday June 6th at the French embassy. For more information and to rsvp : "Rendez-vous du CNRS" with François Forget - Planet Mars: The Story of Another World - June 6th, 2012

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