Igneous Rocks & Volcanics

Initial Publication Date: October 23, 2012


This learning module and related laboratory exercise exposes students to volcanic styles, eruptions, igneous rock textures and their evidence in the Martian landscape.

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Learning Goals

Students will be able to:

  • Differentiate between pahoehoe and a'a' lava flows through USGS video and subsequent discussion. Students will then observe Mars imaging of lava flows and hypothesize which lava flow is more likely on Mars.
  • Observe a columnar joint experiment using cornstarch, observe the process and discuss its potential formation on Mars. Students will observe columnar jointing on Mars using HiRISE imaging and compare the features to the Columbia River basalts on Earth as an analog.
  • Use Google Mars and JMARS software to increase their literacy with the software packages as well as recognize and analyze different mineralogies on Mars and the nature of Olympus Mons in comparison to Earth analog volcanoes.

Context for Use

This learning module is meant for adaptation in an introductory earth science course and/or planetary science course. Before engaging in the In-Class Activities and/or Homework, students will need to be provided with an overview of igneous rocks (see Teaching Notes and Tips). All In-Class Activities can be adapted to a homework set if desired. Online access is essential for video viewing in association with the In-Class Activities.

Description and Teaching Materials

Compiled In-Class Activities and Homework

In-Class Activity


Teaching Notes and Tips

  • Provide students with a background in the rock cycle, igneous rock textures, volcanic styles, and rates of cooling for In-Class Activity 1
  • Instructors may choose to develop their own cornstarch experiment by the adaptation of the following published experiment and results: http://www.physics.utoronto.ca/~nonlin/papers_mud.html
  • Make sure students are familiar with both Google Mars and JMARS software. The introduction module "Introduction to Mars and Earth Analogs" provide homework and/or In-Class activities to expose and orient students to the software packages.


  • One of the goals of MFE is to have students become familiar with Mars imagery and navigating the mission online archives as well as software programs available to explore Mars imagery. The homework assignments, if completed, will provide students with increased competence in navigating both Google Mars and JMARS software.
  • Through comparison of various Mars images students will be asked to identify common minerals on Mars, their abundance in terms of geographic location, as well as style of igneous rock formation.

References and Resources

  1. Image file: Igneous Rocks and Volcanics (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 20.8MB Oct23 12).
  2. Rock Cycle Background: http://www.classzone.com/books/earth_science/terc/content/investigations/es0602/es0602page02.cfm
  3. Columnar Joint Experiment Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CJWfneKdv08.
  4. Columnar Joint Article: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/12/081216104325.htm
  5. Columnar Jointing in Columbia River Gorge Oregon: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WLGXmJZ_KIU
  6. Mars columnar jointing discovery by HIRISE in Geology:
  7. HIRIES columnar jointing image: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/MRO/multimedia/mro20090225.html
  8. Pahoehoe lava flow video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qTTLYx4Xo2k&feature=related
  9. A'a lava flow video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bWswq8PmRII
  10. Basalt on Mars (Hawaii): http://www.psrd.hawaii.edu/May09/Mars.Basaltic.Crust.html
  11. Athabasca Spiral lava flows: Discovery news article: http://www.space.com/15446-mars-lava-volcanoes.html Image source: http://www.space.com/15446-mars-lava-volcanoes.html
  12. Mars Plagioclase mineralogy animation: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FRU0cHb31JM