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The sudden discovery on Mars may have implications for the search for life

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Red Mars. (iconic image) © imago images / ZUMA Wire

On Mars, a research team makes a surprising discovery: the planet appears to still be active below the surface.

Tucson – On Earth, shifting tectonic plates cause the planet’s surface to shift, while the interior is dynamic. Because it is in Mars There is no plate tectonic movement. Mars was considered a “dead” planet for a long time. But the NASAThe Insight space probe in recent years Many earthquakes have been recorded A new study shows that there is a lot going on beneath the surface of the Red Planet.

to study which in the journal natural astronomy released Researchers from the University of Arizona have re-analyzed all available data on the Martian paradise region. “Our study presents several lines of evidence supporting the presence of an active giant mantle plume on Mars in modern times,” said Adrien Broquet, co-author of the study, in a statement.

Researchers have found a plume of mantle on Mars – an explanation for earthquakes

Mantle plumes are large bubbles of warm, silty rock that rise from the planet’s interior and push through the mantle into its crust. The result can be earthquakes, faults and volcanic eruptions. For example, on Earth, the Hawaiian Islands chain formed when the Pacific Plate slowly drifted up the mantle plume.

“We have strong evidence that mantle plumes are active on Earth and Venus, but this is unexpected on a supposedly cold small world like Mars,” said co-author Jeff Andrews-Hanna. “Mars was at its most active three to four billion years ago, and the prevailing view is that the planet is basically dead today.”

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Mars wasn’t always a “dead” planet.

This wasn’t always the case: Mars has the largest volcanoes in the solar system, and most of the Red Planet’s northern hemisphere is covered in volcanic deposits. “The low activity in recent history is usually attributed to negative processes on a cold planet,” says Broquet.

But the Elysium region is different: there have been major volcanic eruptions over the past 200 million years. “Previous work by our group found evidence of the most recent known volcanic eruption on Mars in the region of Elysium,” says Andrews-Hanna. “It caused a small eruption of volcanic ash about 53,000 years ago, which in geological time is practically yesterday.”

Mars has no plate tectonics – but the mantle poles are moving away from themselves

Since the researchers know Mars does not have plate tectonics, the team investigated whether the observed activity was caused by mantle plume. Mantle plumes reveal themselves through a specific chain of events: warm material rises and hits the surface, pushing the crust up and stretching it. The molten rock then erupts from the mantle plume in the form of flood basalts, forming vast volcanic plains.

Volcanic activity in the Elysium region of Mars originates in Cerberus Fossae, a series of small cracks that stretch more than 1,300 kilometers across the surface of Mars. The InSight team found just about all of it Seismometry It emanates from this region – but the reason for this has remained unknown.

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Now researchers have found evidence of the exact sequence of events that reveal the mantle plume: The surface has been lifted, creating one of the highest areas in Mars’ northern lowlands. Further exploration showed that other evidence also pointed to mantle plume. When the researchers applied a tectonic model to the region, they found that a massive plume of mantle about 4,000 kilometers wide was the only explanation for the formation of Cerberus fossils.

The new discovery on Mars could have implications for the search for life

This mantle plume affects an area of ​​Mars roughly the size of the United States. Future studies should find a way to explain this,” says Broquet. Experts had thought that InSight landed in one of the “most geologically boring regions on Mars,” Broquet continues. “Instead, our study shows that InSight landed On top of an active scarf column.”

Orb: planet
family name: Mars
Moons: 2 (Phobos and Deimos)
temperature: Minimum -153°C, average -63°C, maximum +20°C

Broquet is sure that the new discovery is a quantum leap. Because it may also have an impact on the search for life on Mars. The heat from the mantle plume can also melt ice, creating liquid water, which in turn can fuel chemical reactions that can support life deep underground. “Microbes on Earth thrive in such environments, and that may be the case on Mars,” notes Andrews-Hanna.

And the new study raised new questions in another way, too: “Knowing that there is an active giant plume beneath the surface of Mars raises important questions about how the planet has evolved over time,” Andrews-Hannah explains. “We are convinced that the future holds more surprises.” (tab)