Mars was as soon as dwelling to seas and oceans, and maybe even life. However our neighboring world has lengthy since dried up and its environment has been blown away, whereas most exercise beneath its floor has lengthy ceased. It’s a lifeless planet.
Or is it?
Earlier analysis has hinted at volcanic eruptions on Mars 2.5 million years ago. However a brand new paper suggests an eruption occurred as just lately as 53,000 years in the past in a area referred to as Cerberus Fossae, which might be the youngest identified volcanic eruption on Mars. That drives dwelling the prospect that beneath its rusty floor pocked with gigantic volcanoes which have gone silent, some volcanism nonetheless erupts to the floor at uncommon intervals.
“If this sediment is of volcanic origin then the Cerberus Fossae area might not be extinct and Mars should still be volcanically lively as we speak,” scientists on the College of Arizona and Smithsonian Establishment, write in their paper — which was posted on-line forward of peer assessment and has been submitted to the journal Icarus.
The location of the potential eruption, seen in photographs from Martian orbit, is close to a big volcano referred to as Elysium Mons. It’s about 1,000 miles east of NASA’s stationary InSight lander, which touched down on Mars in 2018 to check tectonic exercise on the purple planet. Showing like a crack within the floor, the function appears like a latest fissure eruption, the place subsurface volcanic exercise has induced superheated volcanic ash and dirt to burst by means of the floor. It’s much like deposits brought on by pyroclastic eruptions that scientists have noticed on the moon, Mercury and Earth.
Originating from magma deep beneath the floor, the eruption would have reached a top of a number of miles earlier than falling again to the bottom. The quantity of fabric is estimated at 100 occasions lower than the eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980, said Steven Anderson, an earth sciences professor at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, who was not involved in the paper.
It is the presence of darker material here, coupled with its symmetrical appearance around the fissure, that hints at an eruption. Known as a fault scarp, this type of feature is “very common in Hawaii” as magma near volcanoes causes the surface to expand and crack, says Robert Craddock from the Smithsonian Institution, a co-author on the paper.
By counting the number of craters visible around the feature and in the deposit itself, which is roughly six miles across, the team date the potential eruption ranging from 53,000 to 210,000 years ago. This would by far be the youngest known volcanic eruption on Mars.
“I think it’s pretty compelling,” Dr. Anderson said.
If it holds up to scrutiny, the discovery would have large implications for Mars. In geological terms, 53,000 years is the blink of an eye, suggesting Mars might well still be volcanically active now. It could also have big implications for the search for life on Mars.
Such volcanic activity could melt subsurface ice, providing a potential habitable environment for living things.
“To have life, you need energy, carbon, water and nutrients,” Dr. Anderson said. “And a volcanic system provides all of those.”
NASA’s InSight lander may have already recorded activity linked to this site. Using a seismometer, it has measured hundreds of “marsquakes” or vibrations in the Martian surface. But only two of these have been localized — and both came from Cerberus Fossae.
“It’s actually believable that the tectonic exercise is said to volcanic exercise,” mentioned Suzanne Smrekar from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, who’s the deputy principal investigator on the InSight mission.
It may be doable for InSight to search for extra such exercise quickly.
“It’s an thrilling paper,” Dr. Smrekar mentioned. “Understanding the current day exercise on Mars is certainly a thriller and key to investigating its evolution and habitability.”
Questions nonetheless stay, nevertheless. Lu Pan, a planetary scientist from the College of Copenhagen in Denmark, isn’t so positive in regards to the staff’s courting technique.
“If you wish to date a really latest floor, you depend on the inhabitants of small influence craters,” Dr. Pan mentioned. “And we’ve but to construct this massive database of small influence craters.”
Even in a conservative state of affairs, nevertheless, David Horvath of the College of Arizona, the paper’s lead creator, mentioned the eruption would have been solely 1,000,000 years in the past. That alone would breathe new life into our understanding of Mars.
“It undoubtedly leaves open the chance that, deep within the floor, it might be lively as we speak,” he mentioned.