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False color image of the Tharsis region on Mars, from NASA.
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Tharsis is the name given to a region on Mars, consisting of a great bulge on the planet's surface. Four extinct volcanoes make up the region - Ascraeus Mons, Pavonis Mons, Arsia Mons, and the largest volcano/mountain in the solar system, Olympus Mons. A creationist argument exists that the Tharsis volcanoes, along with Valles Marineris, were formed by the same catastrophic event — a huge asteroid crashing into the surface, creating the Hellas basin, and causing a global flood.

Formation of Tharsis[edit]

The formation of Tharsis can be explained by comparing it to the Hawaiian island chain on Earth. The Hawaiian islands are being created because that area of the Pacific Ocean is over a "hot spot" of the Earth's mantle where molten rock near-continuously erupts onto the surface. Tharsis was over a similar hot spot on Mars, although there are two major differences.

First, the Martian hot spot has long since cooled and the four volcanoes of Mars are extinct. Second, the Hawaiian island chain is a chain because of the active plate tectonics of the Earth. Mars probably[1] never had such tectonics, so the hot spot would have remained under the same surface area, allowing the Martian volcanoes to grow to immense size.

The Tharsis bulge grew so incredibly large that it ripped a gigantic "wound" in the surface of Mars. This "wound" is better known as the Valles Marineris, the largest canyon in the solar system.

Answers not in Genesis[edit]

Answers Research Journal, a creationist journal, has thought it necessary to establish that Tharsis is proof of a global flood. On Mars.[2] We are not making this up. This is what they say, and why they're wrong:

Answers Research Journal RationalWiki's response


"Even on Mars, uniformitarian geologists are so locked into the idea of geological ages associated with a geological column, that when they see different layers of rock they think geological ages."

"Geological column" is a term almost only used by creationists[3] - so let's just note that attempt to define the terms from the kickoff.

Where is your homework?[edit]

"Uniformitarian theories of Martian geological history will likely be used against creationists in the future, but because of the availability of the data creationists have the opportunity to be prepared in advance."

Wait, wait. You haven't analyzed the (freely available) data yet? How long have you had?

Impact crater on Earth?[edit]

"Given the evidence that the Earth received a significant number of impacts during the Flood (Spencer 1998), and that the size distribution of craters show that the Earth and Mars were hit by the same population of objects, it is likely that these events occurred at about the time of the Genesis Flood. Available data is consistent with such a bombardment, since most of the impacts on Earth would have been spread over the year of the Flood, with a smaller number afterward."

Actually, for once, they are partially right. It is scientifically accepted that the majority of the craters on Mars, the Moon, and our Earth would have come from the Late Heavy Bombardment era. Unfortunately for creationists, that happened some 3.8 billion years ago. Not during some flood, 6000ish years ago. Of course, as they always do, they go back to their global flood for which there is not only no evidence, there is plenty of counter evidence that such a flood could not have happened. Further, the idea that an impact on Earth of the scale that caused the Hellas craterWikipedia took place in human times is unsupported by evidence,[4] despite Spencer (1998)'s efforts to shoehorn the K-T extinction into the Biblical flood chronology. Also, it's rather remiss of the Bible to mention a comet crashing into the Earth at the time, eh Mr. Spencer?

The age of Mars[edit]

"This provides a starting point for a young Mars catastrophic geologic model. While more research is needed, the model as presented here shows that Martian geology fits with a recent creation."

No it doesn't. The idea that three Martian features were formed by the same event does not imply a young Mars - in fact it says nothing about the age of Mars at all.

Another way of being wrong about Tharsis[edit]

The ignorant and error-prone pseudoscientist Richard Hoagland has developed a theory that Tharsis, together with the antipodeal bulge at Arabia, are evidence that Mars was once a tidally-locked moon of a larger planet, Planet V. This idea was a tenet of the maverick astronomer Thomas Van Flandern, but at least Hoagland had the decency to acknowledge that fact.

Evaluating Hoagland's idea scientifically is thwarted by the fact that his competence at HTML is so slight that the web page describing it is illegible in most browsers. However, although it is true that Tharsis/Arabia does fit the expected consequence of tidal locking, Van Flandern's further development of the idea—that Planet V exploded, accounting for the uneven cratering of Mars—suffers from a potentially fatal illogicality. To wit, the maximum cratering is all in the Southern hemisphere—the part that, per Hoagland's idea, was not facing the exploded parent planet.


  2. Mars, a testament to catastrophe (retrieved Walpurgisnight 2009)
  3. Googling the term gives us this as the top hit, for instance.
  4. The largest known impact crater on Earth is the Vredefort craterWikipedia, 300km wide; Hellas is 2300 km wide. Not to mention an impact of such caliber would have extinguished all life, except some hardy bacteria.