A long thin cloud on Mars. Image via Flickr/ ESA/ DLR/ FU Berlin/ J. Cowart, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO.

Mars Isn’t Dead: Molten Lava Likely Exists Beneath its Surface

Mars might not be geologically dead. Scientists say molten lava could be bubbling beneath the Martian surface.


Mars continues to surprise. There has been a general assumption among geologists that Mars is geologically dead. Scientists led by ETH Zurich report that seismic signals indicate vulcanism continues to shape the surface of Mars. ETH Zurich seismologists have been listening to the seismic pings of more than 1,300 marsquakes since NASA’s InSight Mission deployed the SEIS seismometer on Mars in 2018. Scientists observed Mars quakes of varying magnitudes over and over again. Analyzing the locations and spectral characteristics of the quakes yielded a surprising result. The epicenters of these quakes are located in the Cerberus Fossae, an area of rifts and grabens.

Cerberus Fossae’s importance

Over 20 recent marsquakes that originated in the Cerberus Fossae graben system were analyzed by an international team of researchers led by ETH Zurich. The seismic data indicate that the low-frequency quakes could be caused by molten lava or volcanic activity on Mars. Scientists say it could be explained by magma at that depth. They found that Cerberus Fossae’s innermost part is the most affected by earthquakes. They discovered that the epicenters were located very close to a structure that had previously been referred to as a “young volcanic fissure” when they scanned observational orbital images of the same area. The Cerberus Fossae Mantling Unit is surrounded by dark dust deposits not just in the dominant wind direction but also in all directions.


Mars active

In the Nature journal, Simon Stähler, the lead author, explained that the dust’s darker shade suggests that it was created relatively recently – perhaps within the last 50,000 years. Stähler is a Senior Scientist working in the Seismology and Geodynamics group led by Professor Domenico Giardini at the Institute of Geophysics, ETH Zurich. The task of exploring Earth’s planetary neighbors is no simple one. Mars is the only planet besides Earth where scientists have rovers, landers, and now drones that transmit data from the ground. Other planetary explorations have relied solely on orbital imagery. Among the most sensitive seismometers ever installed on another planet, InSight’s SEIS is the most sensitive. Using seismic data along with orbital images will allow geophysicists and seismologists to better understand what has been going on on Mars today.

We can learn from Mars

We can learn a lot about Earth’s geological process from the geological processes on Mars, one of our closest terrestrial neighbors. As far as we know, the red planet is the only one that might have once supported a magnetic field due to its core being composed of iron, nickel, and sulfur. Mars may once have had a denser atmosphere and vast expanses of water, according to topographical evidence. Despite the fact that its polar caps are no longer covered with snow, scientists have found frozen water on them, most likely dry ice. It is difficult to imagine that Mars was very much alive about 3.6 billion years ago, at least from a geophysical viewpoint, based on images of the vast, dry, dusty Martian landscape.

Olympus Mons, a volcanic mountain nearly three times the height of Mount Everest, was created by volcanic debris that spewed for a long time in the Tharsis Montes region. Mars is still alive, as evidenced by the quakes coming from Cerberus Fossae, named after the “hellhound of Hades” from Greek mythology.


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Written by Ivan Petricevic

I've been writing passionately about ancient civilizations, history, alien life, and various other subjects for more than eight years. You may have seen me appear on Discovery Channel's What On Earth series, History Channel's Ancient Aliens, and Gaia's Ancient Civilizations among others.

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