Olympus Mons

Mars, the ‘Red Planet’, is home to the largest volcano in our solar system.

Olympus Mons towers over the Martian plains and is one of several volcanoes and volcanic features that can be mapped out on the surface of the planet.

Tanno and Iguda have landed the Widget on the top of Olympus Mons to peak over its vast craters and find out about this and other volcanoes that are found in space.

MARS Image Credit: Almond/NASA
Olympus Mons. Image Credit NASA

The European Space Agency and NASA have been mapping out the surface of Mars in greet detail. You can take a fly through and see a virtual Mars in 3D in the movie below… can you spot Olympus Mons?

Olympus Mons is really a super big volcano. It rises up from the Martian plains around it, and you can see craters at its top which are as as large as the Big Island on Hawaii…..

Olympus Mons false colour image showing different height bands. Comparison of the scale of Olympus Mons to the Hawaiian Island chain. Image Credit: NASA, USGS.

Other Space volcanoes – Io (Jupiter I)

The moon Io also known as Jupiter I, is the innermost and third-largest of the four Galilean moons around Jupiter… and it has erupting volcanoes on it!

The surface of Io is dotted with volcanoes, and we have even imaged eruptions from images taken by NASA’s Galileo and New Horizons spacecraft.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL

Io eruption images. Image Credit: NASA/JPL

There are even volcanoes called cryovolcanoes (ice volcano) which erupt volatile chemicals such as water, ammonia or methane, instead of hot molten rock. These have been seen on Saturn’s moon Enceladus, as well as some other icy moons such as Europa, Titan, Ganymede and Miranda.

Illustration of the interior of Saturn’s moon Enceladus showing a global liquid water ocean between its rocky core and icy crust. Thickness of layers shown here is not to scale. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

It turns out there are both ancient and current volcanoes in our solar system on a number of planets and moons.

Cool video from the American Museum of Natural History in New York about space volcanoes.


How big is BIG?. It is difficult to get a feel for just how big Olympus Mons is compared to the volcanoes on Earth. You can get a relative feel for these differences, by making some scaled examples.

You will need:
1) large sheet, and some smaller cloths/napkins
2) a pole/stick and some smaller sticks.
You may want to do this outside, but you should also be able to manage in indoors. You may need some help. First you are going to work out the relative difference in height between Olympus Mons and some other mountains on Earth.
Your large pole/stick represents the height of Olympus Mons, so you will need to know how many cm there are to a km in your relative scale. So divide the size of Olympus Mons in km by the length of your pole/stick.

Hint/example: Olympus Mons rises 26 km above its surrounding plains. So if your stick is 52 cm tall, then your scale is 2 cm of stick height for every kilometre of volcano height.

Now pick one of your volcanoes from the series on Earth and note down its height in kilometres, and also find out the height of Mt Everest. You will now need to make smaller sticks at the relative scale of these mountains by converting their height in km’s into your relative cm scale from your Olympus Mons stick.

Now put the Olympus Mons pole under the sheet so it makes a mountain like peak (it will be like making a pointy tent). You now need to put the other sticks under sheets or other cloth to make them look like pointed mountain shapes as well. Get some help to put them next to each other and take a photo. That’s the relative difference in height for Olympus Mons to your choice of Earth’s volcanoes and our highest mountain on Earth.

You can go to the previous Volcanoes secret pages by clicking the places below.

StromboliVesuvius/PompeiiErta Ale
Mount St HelensSarychevMount Fuji