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Scientists recently announced the discovery of a colossal Martian volcano that had been “hiding in plain sight” for decades, Sky News reported.

This 280-mile-wide geological behemoth is nestled near the equator in Mars’ Tharsis volcanic province and remained elusive despite repeated observations by NASA’s orbiting spacecraft since 1971.

Researchers came across the newly-found Noctis volcano – named in honor of its location at the edge of scenic Noctis Labyrinthus, or “Labyrinth of the Night” – while studying suspected glacier remnants and potential landing sites for future missions.

“We were examining the geology of an area where we had found the remains of a glacier last year when we realized we were inside a huge and deeply eroded volcano,” noted lead author Pascal Lee.

Presenting their findings at last week’s 55th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in Texas, Lee and his team suggested that the gargantuan volcano had been active for a very long time judging by its size and “complex modification history.”

Co-author Sourabh Shubham added that the area surrounding the Noctis volcano is known to be rich in various hydrated minerals “spanning a long stretch of Martian history.”

“A volcanic setting for these minerals had long been suspected,” he explained. “So, it may not be too surprising to find a volcano here. In some sense, this large volcano is a long-sought ‘smoking gun’.”

The authors highlighted that the discovery offers an “exciting new location to study Mars’ geologic evolution through time, search for life, and explore with robots and humans in the future.”

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